No law against seeking abortion referendum donations from minors, says SIPO

Parents shocked after anti-abortion group Family & Life targets girl (15) for up to €1,500

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock


There is no law to stop either side in the abortion referendum seeking donations from minors, the Standard in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has stated.

The parents of a 15-year-old schoolgirl say they were shocked when a letter arrived from the anti-abortion group Family & Life soliciting donations.

The letter to Emma Fenlon, who lives in Knocklyon in south Dublin was from Family & Life director David Manly and the envelope states that it was “to be opened only by the addressee”.

A spokeswoman for Sipo said soliciting donations from under-18s is not illegal under the Electoral Act.

“The act is silent in relation to this,” she explained.

In his 10-page letter addressed to Ms Fenlon, Mr Manly said Family & Life needed €245,000 to run a referendum campaign.

He continued: “That deserves – demands – financial sacrifices from me, you and every other supporter of the Eighth Amendment. I am asking you to send your largest gift possible to help Family & Life defeat abortion-on-demand.”

Mr Manly goes on to ask for donations from €50 up to €1,500. “Is that possible?” he writes of the €1,500 donation. “And if you have to give something up to send €1,500 – perhaps a short holiday – then please make that sacrifice.”

He also enclosed two postage-paid envelopes suggesting that she split her donation in half. “Hopefully this will take some of the sting out of sending a much larger-than-usual contribution.”

Ploughing championships

The letter arose after Ms Fenlon signed a petition against repealing the Eighth Amendment and gave her home address at a stall run by Family & Life during the National Ploughing Championships last September.

John Fenlon said his daughter and her friends were wearing school tracksuits and school-branded hoodies. There was no excuse, he maintained, for Family & Life to take names and addresses from minors with a view to soliciting donations from them.

Mr Fenlon added: “It would be reasonable as an observant adult [to see] that these were children of school-going years. When asked where they were from they replied [that they were] transition year students. Many of Emma’s friends’ mothers have let my wife know they also received letters from Family & Life.”

In response, Mr Manly admitted it was “entirely inappropriate” to send letters soliciting donations to teenagers.

“At busy events especially, it can be difficult for Family & Life to guarantee that the received name and address is that of an adult,” he said.

“ We intend from now on that the minimum age of 18 should be clearly printed, and forms should only be signed by the person supplying a name and address.”

Mr Manly said “to the best of my knowledge” this was the first time such a complaint had been made against Family & Life since it started in 1996.

He went on to state that the organisation is registered with Sipo and is “up to date” on all donations. It is a company limited by guarantee with accounts submitted every year.

He added that if a parent complains that their teenager has received a mailing from Family & Life, he will delete the entry from their database and apologise to the family.

Mr Fenlon responded: “For Manly and the organisation to say that ‘we can’t police the stand’ is not satisfactory. If you can pay for a stand, you can adequately resource the stand to pay for it to be properly policed, so that you are not getting signatories from minors.”

Four years ago Fine Gael TD Jim Daly called for an investigation into the activities of Family & Life after the organisation called for donations of up to €7,000 from individuals. Mr Manly said he needed €28,000 to fight a court case against Sipo and the “pro-abort press”.

He wrote to one constituent of Mr Daly: “Has our Lord rewarded you with blessings that lets you assume one quarter of this burden with a gift of €7,000?”

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