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Anti-abortion group cranks up pressure on minister


Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath

Health Minister Simon Harris is facing a continuing backlash for supporting Amnesty International's campaign for a 'Yes' vote in the abortion referendum despite the charity's dispute with the State's political watchdog.

The anti-abortion Iona Institute criticised Mr Harris saying he has "chosen to ally himself" with an organisation that's refusing to return a foreign donation found to have been in breach of Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) rules.

Amnesty International Ireland has brought a High Court challenge after Sipo told it to return €137,000 it got in 2015 from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), which was set up by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.

Mr Harris attended the launch of the human rights charity's 'It's Time To Talk' campaign to encourage a 'Yes' vote.

Last night Iona Institute spokesperson Maria Steen hit out at Mr Harris's involvement.

She claimed: "So determined is the minister to further his campaign for the introduction of an abortion regime that is even more permissive than that in Britain, he is prepared to overlook Amnesty's defiance of Sipo rules."

Cora Sherlock, from the LoveBoth campaign, previously said it was "unacceptable" for the minister to campaign with Amnesty.

A spokesperson for Mr Harris responded to the fresh criticism pointing to a previous statement that said he had been assured Amnesty International will fully comply with Sipo rules during the abortion campaign.

She rejected Ms Steen's remarks claiming Mr Harris's proposals for an abortion regime to replace the Eighth Amendment would be more permissive than in Britain.

The spokeswoman said the proposed legislation is for "regulated, medically supervised termination of pregnancy in restricted circumstances" and is "vastly different to the current British law".

Ms Sherlock also said: "it is ironic that the position of those who condemn the British regime would mean that Irish women will continue to be forced to travel to it".

Amnesty International's Irish director Colm O'Gorman accused anti-abortion groups of "obvious distraction tactics" in their criticism.

He said Amnesty is registered and "fully compliant" with Sipo for its referendum campaign.

"The issue that we have brought to the high court relates to a campaign targeted at Government that ended in 2017," he added.

"With six weeks to go before polling day it's time for us all to focus on the real issues."

Irish Independent