Dublin, 11 October 2018
The Irish Electoral Act has been strongly criticised by a broad coalition of NGOs and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. The coalition of NGOs has published a policy paper with proposed amendments to the law and will send an open letter to the Taoiseach.
Speaking in Dublin this afternoon, Waltraud Heller of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) said the Act potentially constituted a “blanket ban on foreign funding”, something which is incompatible with international human rights law. The international NGO CIVICUS also addressed the conference and presented comparative research into how “political” activity by NGOs is regulated in Ireland and three other EU countries.
Three NGOs who have felt the stifling effect of the Act are EQUATE, Amnesty International Ireland and Education Equality.
Michael Barron of EQUATE said:
“Documents released to us under a Freedom of Information request make clear that both the application of the law, as well as the procedures followed by the Standards in Public Office Commission towards us, were disproportionate and deeply unfair.In early 2017, EQUATE spent a lot of time and energy in responding to SIPOC’s queries – this included taking legal advice. Our (Irish) funder was also contacted directly and had to seek independent legal advice. These circumstances were obviously a source of stress and, as a small organisation, had a significant impact on our capacity to carry out our everyday work. They were a huge factor in our eventual decision to wind down. What is shocking about the documents is that you can clearly see that the complaints were examained and that SIPOC were satisfied with EQUATE’s response until a more intense campaign of complaints began. These complaints came from a person, prominent in a religious organisation, who was opposed to EQUATE’s work.”
The Electoral Act forbids anyone engaging in “political” work from accepting any donations from abroad, anonymous donations above €100, or domestic donations of more than €2,500 from any one source. Its definition of “political” is so wide that it includes the general advocacy work of many organisations. In recent years, this is how the body which enforces the Act (Standards in Public Office Commission – SIPOC) has been interpreting this term, with its investigations often originating in complaints by third-parties who disagree with the organisation’s work. It has also been targetting donations from Irish donors under the Act.
Above: Val Heller of the EU FRA (centre) with Michael Barron and April Duff.
The conference was organised by the Coalition for Civil Society Freedom, which is led by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and is comprised of The Wheel, Uplift, Amnesty International Ireland, Front Line Defenders, Transparency International Ireland and ICCL. They say that the Electoral Act is violating numerous basic civil and political rights, including the right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of expression, and that they are “gravely concerned that Ireland’s democratic values are compromised”. They will send an open letter to An Taoiseach calling for Electoral Act reform.
Michael Barron, former executive director of EQUATE (contact through Sinéad Nolan, below)
April Duff, legal officer for Education Equality (contact through Sinéad Nolan, below)
Ivan Cooper, Director of Public Policy with the Wheel (contact through Sinéad Nolan, below)
Waltraud Heller of EU FRA (contact through Sinéad Nolan, below)
Cathal Gilbert of CIVICUS (contact through Sinéad Nolan, below)
Fiona Crowley. Research and Legal Manager for Amnesty International Ireland (contact through Sinéad Nolan, below)
Liam Herrick: email@example.com 087 2351374
For media queries and advance copies of any of the papers to be presented:
Sinéad Nolan: firstname.lastname@example.org 087 4157162