Sunday 20 January 2019

Sipo hits back in row over Amnesty donation

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The State's politics watchdog has finally hit back in the row over US donations to Amnesty International and other organisations in favour of changing Ireland's abortion laws.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has said one argument used by Amnesty boss Colm O'Gorman in his challenge of an order to return €137,000 to a foundation set up by billionaire George Soros is "inaccurate".

The instruction to send the money back to the New-York-based Open Society Foundations came amid allegations the donation breaches laws against foreign financing of political campaigns ahead of next year's planned referendum.

Mr O'Gorman claimed the law is "flawed" and is getting legal advice on the Sipo order. One argument he put forward is that a 2003 Sipo report said the law is so "broadly drawn" that organisations like Tidy Towns committees and residents' associations could fall under its remit.

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A Sipo spokesperson said this is "inaccurate". It said the 2003 report on the law requiring so-called third party organisations to register for receiving political donations detailed the publicity about what was a new law at the time. The report said the "extremely wide definition of political purposes" had led to enquiries from groups like Tidy Towns committees.

Criticism

However, Sipo said: "This simply comments on the breadth of groups that contacted the office. It is not and should not be taken as a criticism of the scope of the legislation."

Mr O'Gorman last night insisted the 2003 report highlights the law's "vagueness and broadness". He has previously spoken of how Sipo told Amnesty it didn't have to register as a 'third party' when details of the OSF donation emerged in 2016.

Sipo said its policies haven't changed.

It said that in 2016 it got information that several Irish organisations received donations from a foreign donor but was assured by recipients they weren't for political purposes. It said it recently received new information the donations were indeed for political purposes, and got confirmation from the donor that this was the intention.

"As it is the intent of the donor that determines whether a donation is a political donation, the funding very clearly fell within the Act's prohibitions," Sipo said.

Irish Independent

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