01 July 2020
A coalition of NGOs has written to a UN human rights expert expressing concern that overly stringent restrictions on funding mean Irish campaigners are hampered in their work. The NGOs say that in the past three years many organisations have been forced to close; to hand back donations they’ve received; or face prosecution.
The move comes as Ireland delivers a statement to the UN Human Rights Council this week on difficulties facing activists and campaigners globally. While it is very welcome that Ireland is championing civil society space on the international stage, successive governments have failed to address the impact of the Electoral Act on NGOs at home.
Spokesperson for the coalition, ICCL’s Liam Herrick said:
“Ireland’s work on civil society freedom was one of the key reasons it secured a seat at the UN Security Council. At the same time, Irish civil society has raised the ongoing restrictions on freedom of association with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of association, Mr. Clément Voule. It is time that Ireland matched its fine words and actions internationally with respect for civil society at home.”
In its submission to the Special Rapporteur, the coalition of NGOs – which is comprised of Amnesty International Ireland, Front Line Defenders, The Wheel, Transparency International Ireland, Uplift and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties – say that the difficulties stem from an amendment to the Electoral Act in 2001. They also say that the regulator (the Standards in Public Offices Commission – SIPOC) has been increasingly stringent over the past three years, and that organisations and campaigners have been gagged as a result.
NGOs and the people heading them up have been threatened with prosecution. The criminal offences created by the Electoral Act are significant; the possible penalties for failing to comply are a €25,394 fine and three years’ imprisonment. SIPOC has also directed or advised several CSOs to return funds which it has deemed “prohibited”.
Mr Herrick continued:
“What all this effectively means is that if a group of people want to come together to advocate for change, they are barred from receiving donations of over €100. For most campaigns, this is completely untenable. If we want to continue having national conversations on things of importance to us, this has to be changed immediately.”
For media enquiries Liam Herrick: :firstname.lastname@example.org 087 4157162