Dublin, 6 July 2018
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), along with a coalition of other leading civil society organisations, this morning held a press conference to mark the adoption of a landmark Irish-led resolution on the importance of civil society space by the UN Human Rights Council.
Welcoming Ireland’s leadership on this issue at the UN, the ICCL also called on the Irish government to practice at home what its Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is preaching abroad. While Ireland is a leader in defending civil society internationally, civil society at home faces increasing difficulties relating to our poorly drafted electoral laws. Small non-governmental organisations such as Education Equality, for example, have been forced to return part of their seed funding due to restrictive legislation on funding. This is due to an overly broad definition of “political purposes” in section 22 of the Electoral Act 1997 as amended, which falls to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC) to enforce.
April Duff of Education Equality said:
“We were told we had to give back part of €10,000 in seed funding because we were going to use it for ‘political’ purposes. Our work involves campaigning for equality of access to education for all children regardless of religion. We don’t consider that to be political – that’s advocacy for human rights. Does this mean that no-one can receive funding for human rights?”
Sign the petition to reform the Electoral Act here: https://action.uplift.ie/campaigns/284
Speaking at the conference, director of ICCL, Liam Herrick said:
“As leading Irish civil society organisations, we are strongly supportive of the role Ireland is playing internationally, speaking up for our colleagues facing oppressive laws and crackdowns on civic space around the world. Unfortunately, however, civil society in Ireland is also currently facing some of the threats which the DFAT is specifically concerned about abroad. The UN resolution calls attention to the fact that restrictions on funding for civil society actors undermine the right to freedom of association and calls on states to ensure they are in compliance with their international commitments on this front. But those exact kinds of restrictions are in place here”.
Sister Stanislaus Kennedy said:
“The importance of civil society for democracy cannot be underestimated. Many Irish people dedicate themselves, including in their free time, to the betterment of society for all. These people often witness the injustices in our society or corruption in our political systems and take it upon themselves to advocate for change. This is very different to political work and must be protected in ways that are different to how we regulate the political system”.
Steve Rawson said:
“Given Irish Aid’s support of many civil society actors carrying out work abroad which Sipoc would likely deem to be political, it is high time that reform of these provisions take place so that Ireland is applying the same rules at home as abroad”.
Cathal Gilbert of Civicus said:
“CIVICUS welcomes the adoption of the resolution led by Ireland on behalf of a core group of States on civil society engagement with international and regional organisations. The resolution recognises the fundamental contribution civil society makes in building pluralistic democracies and in engaging in multi-lateral processes. It also encourages International and regional organisations to open up access for civil society. CIVICUS acknowledges and appreciates Irelands open consultation with civil society in the drafting of the resolution and their commitment to working with civil society at all levels”
ICCL will launch a campaign on civil society space in September. Drawing together a broad coalition of NGOs, the campaign will aim to bring about change in the Electoral Acts, and will also campaign for the inclusion of human rights as a charitable purpose. Sign the petition calling for change here: https://action.uplift.ie/campaigns/284
Notes for editors:
Members of the CSO coalition also present at today’s press conference: Front Line Defenders, Transparency International Ireland, The Wheel and Uplift.