Abortion campaigners claim donations used for ‘education’

Groups in abortion debate claim donations used for ‘educational purposes’

Groups on both sides of the campaigns around the abortion issue claim donations they receive are used for educational rather than political purposes.

Organisations which receive more than €100 in donations for political purposes are required to register with the Standards in Public Office commission (Sipo) as "third parties".

Prominent groups in favour of liberalising Ireland's abortion laws that are not registered as third parties include Amnesty International Ireland, the National Women's Council of Ireland, Doctors for Choice, and the Abortion Rights Campaign. Anti-abortion campaign groups not registered include Yes to Life, Youth Defence, and the Life Institute.

A referendum will be held next year on the Eighth Amendment to the constitution, which places an equal constitutional right to life on the unborn child and the mother.

Sipo defines political activity as “any campaign conducted with a view to promoting a particular outcome in relation to a policy of the Government.”

If an organisation is registered as a third party, it has to follow regulations for donations. It is illegal for third parties to receive political donations from anyone who is not an Irish citizen, or more than €2,500 from a single donor in a year.

The political ethics watchdog wrote to each of the groups informing them they may be required to register as third parties. The correspondence was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), which is part of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, told Sipo the organisation “has not been in receipt of any donations for political purposes.”

The organisation receives donations, but Anne Gibney, head of finance at the NWCI told Sipo “we consider that we do not receive donations for any activities falling within the definition of political purposes.”

Colm O’Gorman director of Amnesty Ireland said the group “is solely concerned with the independent and impartial protection and promotion of human rights. This is not ‘political’, so we do not consider our human rights work to come within the remit of the 1997 Electoral Act”.

Amnesty International Ireland received €2,358,825 from subscriptions, donations, and fundraising income in 2015, according to their public financial accounts.

The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) deregistered from Sipo in December 2016, and a spokeswoman said the group considered its work to be educational and human rights based rather than political.

’Purely Educational’

Yes to Life, a group which distributes leaflets in support of retaining the Eighth Amendment, told Sipo “as our leaflet is purely educational there is no need for Yes to Life to register as a third party.”

Youth Defence, which organises the annual Rally for Life march with the Life Institute also informed Sipo it was “not obliged to register” as a third party.

If the groups wish to campaign in the referendum on Ireland’s abortion laws next year, they will be required to register with Sipo for the period of the campaign.

Sherry Perreault, head of ethics and lobbying regulation at Sipo said the commission has the authority to refer any group suspected of breaching electoral donation law to the Garda, but no organisations have been referred to the Garda to date.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times