O’Gorman says Amnesty will fight order to return Soros donation

Chief executive says SIPO decision is flawed and principle on which it is based could be unlawful

George Soros: Amnesty said the Soros grant accounts for nearly 2.5%  of its total annual income, but returning it would set ‘a dangerous precedent’. Photograph: AFP/Getty

George Soros: Amnesty said the Soros grant accounts for nearly 2.5% of its total annual income, but returning it would set ‘a dangerous precedent’. Photograph: AFP/Getty

 

The chief executive of Amnesty International in Ireland said the organisation will challenge an instruction by the State’s ethics watchdog to return a donation from billionaire George Soros.

The Standards in Public Office commission (SIPO) has instructed Amnesty International to return a €137,000 donation from the Soros-funded Open Society Foundation.

The organisation received the money for its My Body My Rights campaign, which advocates the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and the introduction of laws providing for abortion in Ireland.

SIPO said the donation breached Ireland’s campaign finance laws, which prohibit foreign donors making donations to groups involved in elections, or referendums here, or involvement in campaigning for changes in public policy.

Colm O’Gorman, chief executive of Amnesty International in Ireland said he believes the decision is deeply flawed and the principle on which it is based is illegal.

He told RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show: “We will consider every opportunity to challenge this decision. I have repeatedly made it clear that we will challenge this. We are really clear about this.”

He said Amnesty had been transparent about receiving the donation and initially SIPO had allowed it in October 2016, but it subsequently reversed this decision.

“We gave complete details to SIPO about the purpose for which we received this. We responded in detail and clarified the amount and what we were going to do.”

SIPO said the donation breached Ireland’s campaign finance laws, which prohibit foreign donors making donations to groups involved in elections, or referendums here.

David Quinn of the Iona Institute told the same programme he would join O’Gorman in campaigning for a change to the SIPO regulations, but felt in the meantime Amnesty should not break the law.

“We will join Colm in challenging the Act, but we will uphold it.” The Iona Institute is totally compliant with SIPO, he said.

Mr O’Gorman said the purpose of the legislation was incorrect as it also covered Tidy Towns groups, residents associations and Educate Together along with charities such as Trócaire and St Vincent de Paul.

“If Amnesty is in breach of the legislation then so is the Irish State which receives donations,” Mr O’Gorman said.

Mr Quinn said Amnesty could not hold itself “above the law”. Mr O’Gorman said the Irish Electoral Act was as draconian as legislation in Russia and Hungary.

Amnesty, which is taking legal advice on the matter, said the Soros grant accounted for nearly 2.5 per cent of its total annual income, but that returning it would set “a dangerous precedent”.