Sunday 22 April 2018

Repeal groups to join forces for new brand

Stock photo: Tom Honan/PA Wire
Stock photo: Tom Honan/PA Wire
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The country's biggest pro- repeal groups are joining forces to campaign under one banner in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

The Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, the Abortion Rights Campaign and the National Women's Council will pool financial resources and volunteers under a new brand.

The new campaign group will be launched in the coming weeks and will be registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission.

Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council, and Ailbhe Smyth, of the Coalition, confirmed this weekend that the three organisations had agreed the move in recent days and will announce details in the coming weeks. Other groups will also be invited to join.

The National Women's Council, which is government funded, said it will not be spending public money on the campaign but will be fundraising separately from within its membership.

The Pro Life Campaign said it is "concerned" that state-funded groups like the National Women's Council are "front and centre to the campaign to dismantle the Eighth Amendment" and that it wasn't "fair".

The National Women's Council is one of several groups to have registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission in recent months ahead of the referendum.

Third-party organisations must register with the ethics watchdog if they receive donations of more than €100.

Other groups that have recently registered include Save the 8th, which registered with Sipo last month and hopes to raise around €300,000 through fund-raising.

An affiliate organisation, The Life Institute, has been soliciting donations online to help its campaign against repeal, even though it is not yet registered with the ethics watchdog. A spokesperson said it is in the process of doing so and "will comply fully" with electoral law, including disclosing the bank account into which all donations are received to the Standards Commission.

Cora Sherlock said the Pro Life Campaign hopes to raise "a large number of small donations from committed supporters" and that this will be enough to run "a well-oiled campaign".

Funding has already become a flashpoint ahead of the referendum. Sipo is challenging foreign donations to pro-repeal groups from US billionaire George Soros's Open Society Foundation. Amnesty International has refused to return a €137,000 donation and is taking a legal challenge.

The Irish Family Planning Association is still in talks with Sipo over the money it got from the Open Society Foundation. The Abortion Rights Campaign returned a €25,000 donation from the Soros foundation in 2016, after it was contacted by Sipo.

The Government plans to hold a referendum early this summer on repealing the State's constitutional ban on abortion and is preparing legislation that would allow access to abortion for all women up to 12 weeks if the referendum is carried.

Sunday Independent

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