The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has said that today’s removal of the well-known Repeal the 8th mural by street artist Maser raises very serious concerns for freedom of expression and freedom of association in Ireland. Project Arts Centre, on whose wall the piece appears, has been threatened with the loss of its charity status by the Charities Regulator if it does not remove the piece.
Who defines what is or isn’t political art?
“Threatening an organisation’s charitable status for engaging in ‘political’ art is a new departure”, said Liam Herrick, director of ICCL. “We’d be very concerned about how the regulator defines what is or isn’t political art? Where is the line drawn and who decides that? These are serious freedom of expression questions, especially given that artistic expression is afforded higher protection under human rights law.
Mr Herrick continued:
“There are also serious questions about the role of the Charities Regulator in policing the freedom of expression of charities. Are we likely to see a much wider role for the regulator in relation to freedom of speech by organisations and institutions, including the catholic church?
ICCL has previously raised concerns that the Charities Act 2009 does not include the advancement of human rights as a valid charitable purpose. However, advancement of religion is a charitable purpose, meaning that if a religious organisation painted a “Save the 8th” mural, it would appear to fall outside of this regulation.
Danger of this being used as a threat against civil society organisations
The ICCL is currently running a campaign called Her Rights supporting the removal of the 8th Amendment in order to fully realise women’s human rights in Ireland. Mr. Herrick said:
“There is a real danger that this action will lead to civil society organisations being harassed or threatened with complaints to the Charities Regulator whenever they engage with controversial issues and/or that there will be a chilling effect on freedom of speech.”
Project Arts Centre had previously been ordered to remove the mural by Dublin City Council in 2016 on the grounds that it did not have planning permission. On that occasion, ICCL placed two replica murals in the windows of their former offices and were prosecuted for that action.