Cóir makes no secret of its links to anti-abortion group

Tue, Sep 1, 2009, 01:00

Cóir was one of the most strident voices on the No side during the last Lisbon referendum – but is it really a front for Youth Defence?

IS IT a front for Youth Defence or a grassroots pro-family movement? Ultra right-wing extremists or committed campaigners with a conscience?

It goes by different guises, but one thing is clear: Cóir has got people talking again.

It was the organisation responsible for the most eye-catching posters of the last election, such as the “three monkeys”, with its stark warnings that voters would lose power, money and freedom.

This time around, it has been the first campaign group out of the blocks, blitzing the capital with posters about issues ranging from the minimum wage to EU subsidies.

Much of the talk this time has centred on who is behind Cóir and whether, as Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has suggested, they are a front for the controversial anti-abortion group Youth Defence. Cóir describes itself as a voluntary non-profit organisation whose aims are to inform the people of Ireland on the “dangers of the Lisbon Treaty and the democratic deficit in the European Union”.

What its website doesn’t say is that the organisation operates out of the same building on Capel Street in Dublin that accommodates Youth Defence, the Pro-Life Alliance and that also hosted Justin Barrett’s Mother and Child campaign.

Youth Defence has courted controversy in the past with its direct action, while the Mother and Child campaign was badly damaged during the 2002 campaign on the Nice Treaty when its emerged that Mr Barrett had associations with right-wing, quasi-fascist organisations in Europe.

In addition, some of its leaders, such as Niamh Ó Broin (formerly Niamh Nic Mhathúna) are closely associated with both Youth Defence and the Mother and Child campaign.

Brian Hickey, Cóir’s spokesman and a member of the Christian Solidarity Party, says that it has nothing to hide. He describes the group as an independent organisation that is lucky enough to have the “support and energy” of some Youth Defence members.

“Sharing the same building doesn’t make you the same organisation. Cóir pays rent for the use of the building,” Mr Hickey said.

He said that Youth Defence was “a fantastic organisation” and a lot of it members were “very keen, motivated and hard-working volunteers . . . it’s not a question of distancing ourselves from them”.

Of Cóir’s estimated group of 2,600 volunteers, Mr Hickey said most, if not all, shared concerns about issues such as the right to life and that the majority were from a Christian background.

The organisation is planning to spend about €250,000 on some 11,000 posters and up to one million leaflets.

It says that it has raised about half of that sum so far – mostly from individual donations – and insists that it has not received any donations from Youth Defence or any other organisation.

It says it is able to keep its costs down by designing and producing everything in-house, booking advertising space where it can best reach undecided voters, and backing it up with door-to-door canvassing.

In contrast, it says the big political parties have spent a fortune on advertising but failed to back it up with proper canvassing.

In the meantime, Cóir says the “smear campaigns” against it will not work. It points out that its membership is up by 30 per cent on last year and that many of those who worked with groups such as Libertas are joining the organisation.

“Anyone is welcome to join Cóir and they are doing so in increasing numbers,” a spokesman said.

“In the meantime, Fianna Fáil are terrified of going near the doors.”