Dublin, 31 July 2018
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) today welcomes the outcome of the legal challenge taken by Amnesty International Ireland against the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC). SIPOC has agreed to fully retract its demand for Amnesty to return a grant that Amnesty received in 2015, years before a Referendum on the 8th Amendment was called, from the Open Society Foundation for work on reproductive rights.
Director of ICCL, Liam Herrick, said:
The regulator has many questions to answer, particularly on how it deals with civil society organisations who are not political parties, and how it processes complaints from the public. It is clear that this case came about because of a complaint from an individual who did not agree with Amnesty’s work on reproductive rights. Amnesty have been fully vindicated by this outcome, but the reputational damage which they, and the entire human rights sector, have suffered as a result of this flawed decision is profound. That this should have occurred in advance of a highly contested referendum demonstrates the seriousness of this issue for how we regulate democratic participation.
ICCL believes this case demonstrates emphatically that laws intended to regulate undue foreign influence on election campaigning cannot be applied to the more general advocacy work of civil society. On the global stage Ireland takes a lead on the issue of protecting civil society space, with our diplomats at the UN recently gathering the necessary support for a Human Rights Council resolution on the issue and Irish Aid actively providing foreign funding to civil society organisations in other countries. There is a glaring contradiction between this strong principled position and the retention of domestic laws which have the effect of stifling civil society at home.
This is not the only case of its type. Over the past year, ICCL and our colleague organisations have been made aware of several similar cases where small voluntary and community organisations have been the subject of complaints to SIPOC, with often severe effects on their work. We raised our concerns on this matter with SIPOC in August 2017 but did not receive an answer. We subsequently raised the issue with the Department of Housing and Local Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, both of whom adopted a stance supportive of our position. In fact, we were assured by the Tanaiste Simon Coveney that “A key priority for Ireland is to ensure coherence between the promotion and protection of human rights in our foreign policy and our domestic implementation of our international human rights obligations.”
Mr Herrick stated:
This case shows that the law is unworkable and must be changed. ICCL has formed a coalition of organisations who are committed to working with Government to find a better solution for everyone. We are today calling on SIPOC to immediately review its application of the Electoral Act to civil society organisations. We further call on the government to act with urgency in reviewing this deeply flawed legislation.
Sign the petition for reform here: https://action.uplift.ie/campaigns/284
Notes for Editors:
More information on the Electoral Act: https://www.iccl.ie/human-rights/civil-society-space/reform-electoral-act/