We have two referendums coming up, and I have given them both a deal of thought. I have decided that I will be voting “No” to both, and I urge others to do the same, for the following reasons.
On Judges pay: The obvious point is that I disagree with an amendment that so obviously compromises the independence of the judiciary. Judges pay is kept separate to the other branches of the government for a very important reason.
It all seems very much based on the now, if you understand. That is, this amendment is in response to the current financial crisis, to the current policy of cuts, and the current public mood. Few will complain about a cut in Judges pay today.
But, amendments are meant to be lasting. While this seems like no big deal right now, it is a terrible threat in a future situation. The Dail will set the pay, and that means that they have a corridor with which to potentially influence the judicial system. That is a risk that we should be unwilling to take. It is all well and good to act as if it will never happen, but we are discussing the most important legal document in the state here: the hypothetical is everything, and this change could leave the door open to a great deal of abuse in the future.
Moreover I am not at all convinced that it is actually necessary. Judges are by no means bulletproof when it comes to wages at the moment. The government arguably has the power to levy income tax on them, via a law from as far back as the 1950s. The vast majority of judges have proven open to accepting voluntary cuts.
And why is this so black and white? We must accept the current way of things, or go with a very dodgy looking change? Why not appoint an independent body to set the pay of judges? Why is that not on the table?
This amendment is tailored for the specific situation we are in today. That does not a good amendment make. Simply put, the executive is getting more power then it should have here. If you are at all concerned, to any degree, that the independence of the judiciary is threatened, you should vote no.
I say all that as someone who would agree that Judges pay is too high, but this is not the way to settle the problem.
On Oireachtas committees: It is far, far too vague for my liking. The information booklet that came through my letterbox today mentions that “future legislation” will set the rules for such committee powers of inquiry, but goes no further. So, we give them the power, and then they make all the rules? What?
Further, this amendment gives Oireachtas committees too much power in my view. Not power of sentence and punishment of course, but power all the same. They will be able to investigate, make public findings. They will determine the “balance of rights” that witnesses are entitled to, without reference to the people.
This will be a court that has no guarantee of serving justice, as a court should. Its judges will be men seeking votes, that is, subservient to the popular will of the people. Do we let the mob try criminals? No, and for very important reasons. These committees will have the very real power to ruin lives and blacken names, and I am not at all convinced they will go into such an enterprise with a balanced, unbiased viewpoint.
Do you really think that any banker would get a fair hearing in such a committee right now? That is the absolutely crucial point. Would you be satisfied that any individual, being called to account in front of such an empowered committee, would have a fair shake? If you are not convinced, to any degree, you should vote no.
On both: The timing of these referendums disgusts me. Held on the same day as the Presidential election and a by-election in Dublin, the public debate that we should be having on their possible consequences has utterly failed to materialise. The media must take its share of the blames for that, focusing so much on the antics of Dana and co., but they did not set the date of these referenda. There is no opposition. There should be, even if it was one just making a debate.
This four page information booklet is simply not enough. I worry that too many people are planning to vote “Yes” without even hearing any kind of alternative argument. Momentum is a powerful thing, and even I must admit that the likelihood of a “No” vote for either is slim.
I would simply urge people, all readers, to simply look into the negative arguments for these two votes, and then decide accordingly. In my view, there are too many negatives, too many question marks, too much vagueness, too much doubt about good intentions, about blindly trusting the Dail and Seanad not to abuse the powers they seek, for me to give a yes vote.
At the very least, we could force the government to try again with a more reasonable, well-thought out idea for how to approach the issue of judges pay and Oireachtas committee powers.
Vote “No” to the 29th and 30th Amendments, and I believe you will be doing the future well-being of our nation a favour.