Dublin, 27 April 2018
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has today said that referendum posters are an important expression of political speech which must be protected and that the State has a duty to guarantee the right to freedom of expression. It called on gardaí and local authorities to ensure that posters are not removed.
There have been reports of sporadic interference with posters on both sides of the campaign but the ICCL has received information that in some rural areas, particularly Mayo and Donegal, posters are being systematically removed as soon as they go up. It has said that the State must take action against this, in compliance with its obligations under international human rights law.
Article 19 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, to which Ireland is a State party, enshrines the right to freedom of expression as follows:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Moreover, political expression, including via referendum posters, is afforded particularly high protection under European case law because of the far-reaching consequences for the democratic process when it is not respected. The Irish government is obliged to ensure that freedom of expression is respected, particularly during elections and referendums.
Liam Herrick, director of the ICCL, said:
“There are regulations on referendum posters in place and they must be complied with. Where they aren’t, the State must act. We would also call on the main campaign groups to discourage their supporters from taking posters down.”
“ICCL is part of the Together for Yes platform but we would also defend the No campaign’s right to put up posters, even if we disagree with the content and tone of some of them. We would strongly encourage voters to check everything they see on posters against the Referendum Commission’s literature before voting.”
Earlier this week, the ICCL criticised the Charities Regulator’s ordering the removal of the well-known “Repeal the 8th” mural from the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar. The Charities Regulator, in a serious infringement on freedom of speech and artistic expression, threatened the theatre with the loss of its charity status if it did not comply with the order. The ICCL is deeply concerned about the chilling effect on artistic and political expression this action is having in the run-up to the forthcoming abortion referendum.