Simon Harris under fire for backing Amnesty despite abortion donation dispute
Health Minister Simon Harris has endorsed a campaign supported by a group that is refusing to co-operate with a State watchdog's order.
He has been criticised for backing Amnesty International's campaign for a 'Yes' vote in the abortion referendum.
Amnesty has been ordered by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) to repay a €137,000 donation from a Swiss philanthropic organisation.
The Electoral Act bans political donations by foreign individuals and organisations.
The money came from Open Society Foundations (OSF), an organisation founded by the Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros.
Amnesty has challenged the order and has brought a judicial review against Sipo, Ireland and the Attorney General as it seeks to have the order quashed.
Campaigners on the No side of the debate said they were appalled the minister attended Amnesty's launch yesterday.
Save the 8th said it sent a bad signal because of the issues surrounding the donation.
Cora Sherlock, from the LoveBoth campaign, said it was "unacceptable" for the minister to campaign with Amnesty.
"The Health Minister has never challenged Amnesty on the interference by a foreign billionaire in our democracy, yet he saw fit to walk through Moore Street with Amnesty Ireland campaigning for abortion," she said.
"It is wholly unacceptable for the minister to be campaigning with an organisation that is currently involved in a court case with the elections regulator Sipo regarding the receipt of foreign money."
But Mr Harris defended his decision to attend the launch in Dublin city centre.
A spokesperson said Mr Harris had been assured Amnesty International would fully comply with Sipo rules and regulations during the abortion campaign.
"The minister feels a public campaign encouraging people to have a conversation about the importance of a Yes vote has a key role to play in this referendum and he fully supports it," she said.
"The minister has been assured by Amnesty they are registered with Sipo for the referendum campaign and will fully comply with the rules and regulations."
She said the minister could not comment on the OSF donation because it was before the courts.
Sipo governs political donations and obliges groups that accept sums of more than €100 for political purposes to register as third parties and obey the terms of the Electoral Act.
The act states the intent of the donor determines whether a donation is political, not how the money is used.
Amnesty International Ireland executive director Colm O'Gorman said the donation from OSF was linked to a campaign separate to the one launched yesterday calling for a Yes vote in the referendum.
"That campaign started in 2015 and it had a focus on working to secure human rights compliant laws on abortion in Ireland," he said. "The campaign we are running now is targeted at the electorate, that is a completely different (campaign) and for that purpose we have registered with Sipo and will comply fully with the act."