Thursday 19 September 2019

Amnesty seeks to quash Sipo order

Stock picture: Getty
Stock picture: Getty

Tim Healy

Amnesty International has brought a High Court challenge against an order by the State's political watchdog that it return a €137,000 foreign donation it received from for a campaign relating to abortion.

The donation was made in August 2015 by the Open Society Foundations (OSF) set up by billionaire George Soros to be used on Amnesty's 'My Body, Mr Rights' campaign.

The goal of the campaign was to increase support for a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment on abortion.

Last November, the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) directed Amnesty to return the donation as it found it was prohibited under the 1997 Electoral Act and having deemed it to be a donation for political purposes.

Amnesty denies the funds were used for political purposes and says Sipo's decision is flawed, and should be set aside.

As a result, Amnesty International's Irish section has brought proceedings against both Sipo, Ireland and the Attorney General where it seeks to quash Sipo's decision.

It also seeks declarations including that Sipo has acted in error of law, failed to give adequate reasons for its decision and that it should not have to repay the monies.

Brian Murray, senior counsel for Amnesty, said the purpose of the donation was to fund a 2016 campaign. No referendum was planned or had been called when the donation was made, he said.

Amnesty fears the matter could be referred to the Garda, leading to a possible criminal prosecution, if it does not return the monies. It also fears financial hardship as it does not have any significant reserves.

Permission to bring the challenge was granted by Mr Justice Seamus Noonan.

Irish Independent

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