Canadian group seeks to monitor referendum campaign

NGO’s fundraising effort aims to send up to 24 electoral observers to assess if both sides ‘play fair’

A Canadian group is seeking to monitor the abortion referendum campaign. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

A Canadian group is seeking to monitor the abortion referendum campaign. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A Canadian organisation is seeking to fundraise 7,000 Canadian dollars (€4,500) to send up to 24 independent electoral observers to Ireland for the referendum campaign to assess whether both sides “play fair” in the process.

Non-governmental organisation SDAI-ADID says it is interested in “supporting and strengthening democracy through election observation” and that it wants to observe whether the electoral process adheres to “international standards of free, fair and transparent elections”.

Karen Reinhardt, who is running the online fundraiser for the mission, said that neither she, the organisation nor the observers had any preference as to the outcome of the vote.

“We are concerned with the process, not the outcome, which is solely a matter for the Irish people,” she told The Irish Times.

The NGO has been in existence since 2015, but this would be its first observation mission. It considered organising one for the 2015 marriage referendum vote but decided against it as there were other groups already committed.

It plans to send 20-24 observers on a five-day mission, from May 23rd to 27th.

The organisation says its observers are “committed volunteers, and they will be paying much of the costs themselves”.

“They will work in teams of two, in order to ensure that impartial eyes are present at this important vote.”

It said it urgently needed funds as soon as possible to support the observers on the ground.

After briefing and training, they will move to the areas of the country in which they will observe, to familiarise themselves with their area. On referendum day, they will visit several polling stations to observe and report on the activities there and will also visit the count centres the following day.

“They will use a standardised form to report findings to a small ‘core team’ based in Dublin. Their findings will be incorporated into preliminary and final reports for electoral bodies, the public and other interested stakeholders,” Ms Reinhardt said.

The GoFundMe fundraising page notes Ireland has “one of the strictest abortion laws among developed countries”.

It notes that the abortion issue was “highly contentious” in the 1980s and that it would “have the same polarising effect when the Irish people go to a referendum on May 25th, to decide whether or not to repeal the amendment”.

“Feelings on both sides of the question are fierce, and neither side trusts the other to ‘play fair’,” the page says.

Ms Reinhardt said one of the pillars of SDAI’s mandate was that of “democracy support”.

“Democracy support can take many forms, one of which is the observation of elections. This referendum is an important one for Ireland, and SDAI’s presence as an impartial observation group will, hopefully, increase the confidence of the Irish people in the result,” she said.

Ms Reinhardt, a pensioner, has participated in election observation and assistance missions for 13 years, since 2005, when she started in Liberia with the United Nations.

She completes one or two missions a year and has just completed her 23rd, which was with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for the presidential election in Russia.

A spokesman for the OSCE said its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights would not be observing the referendum process.

“Although all OSCE participating states have committed themselves to invite our observers for nationwide elections, and we have observed referenda on some occasions, there is no commitment on the part of the countries to invite us for referenda. ODIHR [Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] has not received an invitation for the May 25th referendum, and will not be observing the process,” he said.

Ms Reinhardt said observers needed to be accredited by the appropriate electoral bodies.

“We have made initial contact with them, and they are awaiting further details from us,” she said.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government said it was up to organisations who wished to observe polling events to make contact in the first instance, whether they were intergovernmental or NGOs.

“The Department and returning officers then provide advice and assistance, if visits do take place,” it said.