Simon Harris fears patent court referendum would be ‘rushed’ if held on June 7th

Asked if hate speech law could be dropped like disability proposals, Taoiseach says Government ‘listening to the Irish people’

The Taoiseach has said preparations for a referendum seeking public approval to have Ireland sign-up to a unified patent court (UPC) with other European countries would be “rushed” if a vote were to take place alongside the local and European elections on June 7th.

There are strong indications that the vote will be postponed with Simon Harris saying the Government would make a final decision next week on whether or not to hold it in less than three months’ time. Newly appointed Minister for Enterprise Peter Burke is to bring a proposal on the matter to the Cabinet meeting.

The expected delay comes after referendums proposing constitutional changes around care and the family - supported by the Coalition, most Opposition parties and many civil society groups - were resoundingly defeated last month.

Asked if those defeats was part of the consideration around the holding of the UPC vote, Mr Harris told reporters in Limerick on Friday night: “I do think it’s really important that Government listens and the Government learns lessons in relation to a referendum. I don’t think we should have any process that is rushed.”

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The UPC is designed to provide a one-stop shop for litigation on patents whose decisions will be binding on participating European Union member states. A Yes vote in a referendum would mean Irish patents would be valid in the 17 EU member states that have signed up to the UPC system. Ireland’s participation has long been called for by business groups and operators in sectors areas such as pharmaceutical trade.

The legislation that would underpin Ireland joining the court is currently at committee stage in the Seanad.

The Taoiseach added: “I know this is an issue that has been discussed for many years. But in terms of the actual timeframe to have a referendum campaign to allow the Electoral Commission do its job, I think it’s important that we reflect on that and get that right in terms of the timing.

“And I do feel at the moment that it looks to me like it would be it would be rushed in terms of trying to have it on the seventh of June but that will be a matter for government to decide in the days ahead.”

Mr Harris was also asked if the Government’s decision to drop a controversial green paper on disablity reform could open the door for other items on the agenda such as hate speech legislation to be set aside.

The hate speech law has come in for criticism from inside Government and outside, with some Fine Gael TDs recently calling for it and proposals to extend opening hours for pubs and nightclubs to be scrapped.

The Taoiseach said: “I hope what people are seeing from my recent appointment as Taoiseach and working closely with my ministerial colleagues is that we’re listening to the Irish people, whether that’s listening in relation to referenda and making sure there’s an appropriate amount of time for people to consider issues, whether it’s listening to disability groups who said ‘Hang on a second, we have real serious concerns’, and the leadership that my colleague Minister Heather Humphrey showed in taking that decision today,” Mr Harris said.

“We’ve now set up a Cabinet Committee on disability I’ll personally chair that that will meet very shortly.”

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