Amnesty International ordered to return donation from billionaire George Soros

Standards in Public Office commission deems €137,000 donation in breach of law

George Soros: Amnesty said the Soros grant accounts for nearly 2.5 per cent of its total annual income, but returning it would set “a dangerous precedent”. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/AFP/Getty Images

George Soros: Amnesty said the Soros grant accounts for nearly 2.5 per cent of its total annual income, but returning it would set “a dangerous precedent”. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/AFP/Getty Images

 

Amnesty International has said it will not obey an instruction by the State’s ethics watchdog to return a donation from billionaire George Soros to fund its campaign to overturn Ireland’s abortion ban.

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

Refusing to obey, Amnesty’s chief executive, Colm O’Gorman, told The Irish Times: “We’re being asked to comply with a law that violates human rights, and we can’t do that.”

It got 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.

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

Last night, a spokesman for the commission declined to comment on the Amnesty case, but said SIPO’s role was to enforce the legislation. Under the legislation, a sentence of up to three years can be imposed.

‘Dangerous precedent’

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

Amnesty and other civil society organisations have previously flagged concerns about the strict campaign finance laws which employ a wide definition of political activity that cannot be funded by foreign donations.

Mr O’Gorman pointed out that Irish Aid, the Government’s development aid arm, regularly funds campaigns run by civil society organisations in many countries around the world.

The electoral law contravenes Ireland’s obligations under international human rights law and constitutes a violation of rights to freedom of association and expression, said Amnesty.

The Electoral Act’s rules are “seriously impacting” on a growing number of other organisations, and could have a severe chilling effect on civil society in Ireland, it said.