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Wednesday, May 20, 1998 Published at 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK


Referendum challenge fails

Bertie Ahern, left, at a graduate ceremony: was confident of the referendum going ahead

An 11th-hour legal challenge to halt Friday's referendum on the future of Northern Ireland has failed.

University lecturer Denis Riordan, from County Limerick, had been given leave to challenge the poll on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. But that argument was dismissed by the High Court and costs were awarded against Mr Riordan.

The judicial review case, which was heard in Dublin on Wednesday, could have resulted in an injunction banning the poll in the Irish republic.

Voters on both sides of the Irish border are due to vote in simultaneous referendums on the Good Friday peace agreement at the end of the week.

People in the republic will also be asked to amend articles two and three of the country's 1937 constitution, which lay claim to the territory of Northern Ireland.

"Disappointed"

Mr Riordan said he was disappointed with the outcome, but indicated that he will not be challenging the High Court ruling in the Supreme Court.

He had contended that the method being used to amend the two articles was invalid under the terms of another article in the same constitution.

Because the constitutional changes also depend on the Stormont Agreement being accepted by voters in Northern Ireland, the changes will be triggered by a government order before the end of the year.

But Mr Riordan says the republic's constitution can only be changed by the referendum procedures set down. "There is no mechanism for allowing a delay," he said.

"Daunting task"

Although he has no legal training, Mr Riordan conducted his own case at the judicial review.

Responding to news of the challenge, the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, had pledged a strong government response.

Mr Ahern said he had been assured that the government's action on Friday's poll was "safe and secure."

He said it had taken all the legal advice he hoped was "necessary" before drafting the terms for the referendum."



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