Thursday 18 October 2018

Amnesty bids to sign up with Sipo despite row

Amnesty International has applied to register with the State’s political watchdog so it can use donations to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote in the abortion referendum despite its dispute with the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).
Amnesty International has applied to register with the State’s political watchdog so it can use donations to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote in the abortion referendum despite its dispute with the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Amnesty International has applied to register with the State's political watchdog so it can use donations to campaign for a 'Yes' vote in the abortion referendum despite its dispute with the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).

The human rights organisation has brought a High Court challenge against a Sipo order that it returns a €137,000 foreign donation it got for a previous campaign relating to abortion. The donation was made in 2015 by the Open Society Foundations (OSF), which was set up by billionaire George Soros.

Amnesty's Irish branch has announced that it will campaign for a 'Yes' vote in the upcoming referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment to allow for more liberal abortion laws.

Organisations that aren't political parties - but who receive donations of more than €100 for political purposes - must register with Sipo as a so-called 'third party'. Several groups on both sides of the abortion debate have already done so.

Colm O'Gorman, Amnesty Ireland's executive director, confirmed it has applied for third-party status for the duration of the referendum campaign.

He did not directly address questions on Sipo's ruling that Amnesty must return the (OSF) donation and if this would impact on his organisation's bid to register. Sipo declined to comment when asked similar questions.

Mr O'Gorman said: "We have always said that if the proposed referendum wording is human rights compliant, we will launch a campaign calling on people in Ireland to support it. We have always recognised that a campaign influencing the outcome of a referendum could reasonably be subject to the Electoral Act's restrictions and regulation."

The 2015 OSF donation was for Amnesty's 'My Body, My Rights' campaign which was conducted in 2016. Last year, Sipo directed Amnesty to return the money after finding that it was prohibited under the Electoral Act, having deemed it to be a donation for political purposes.

In its High Court action, Amnesty denies the funds were used for political purposes and says Sipo's decision is flawed and should be set aside. Amnesty's legal counsel has argued that no referendum was planned or had been called when the donation was made.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section