George Soros’s Amnesty donation ‘was not for political purposes’

Open Society calls on Sipo to correct statement over money given for repeal campaign

The foreign foundation that gave money to Amnesty to support its campaign on abortion has taken issue with the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) and called on it to correct a statement it made on the matter.

The Open Society Foundations, which is funded by the billionaire George Soros, has said at no time did it tell Sipo that €137,000 it gave Amnesty last year was given for "political purposes".

It has also said Sipo’s stance may be influenced by internal foundation documents that were reportedly obtained by people working for the Russian government who hacked into Open Society’s computer system in a bid to discredit Open Society’s work.

Last week Sipo, which has told Amnesty to return the money, said it had recently contacted the donor and that it confirmed the money was for political purposes.


In a statement issued on Thursday from New York, Open Society said it has written to the watchdog asking for the statement to be corrected.

“The grant in question was to fund the continuation of Amnesty’s ‘My body My Rights’ campaign, which seeks to mobilise support for a repeal of the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which effectively bans all forms of abortion in Ireland in violation of women’s and girls’ human rights,” it said.

The statement referred to Sherry Perreault, Sipo's head of ethics and lobbying, who has asserted that the grant was for "political purposes" and that documentary evidence received by Sipo had been verified by the donor which "essentially clarified the intent".


This is a reference to the leaked documents which referred to the foundation funding Irish groups so they could “campaign to repeal Ireland’s constitutional amendment granting equal rights to an implanted embryo as the pregnant woman”.

The leaked document continued: “With one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, a win there (Ireland)could impact other strongly Catholic countries in Europe, such as Poland, and provide much needed proof that change is possible, even in highly conservative places.”

In its statement on Thursday, Open Society said it believed Sipo in its public comment had referred to internal documents that were “stolen from our servers and illegally published on the DC Leaks website in 2016, reportedly by hackers working for the Russian government seeking to publicly discredit our human rights work around the world.”

The foundation said it had told Sipo the hacked documents were not “dispositive of our intention as a donor. Rather they were part of an ongoing discussion on how best to strengthen women’s reproductive rights across Europe”.

It said: “In addition, it was Amnesty who first approached Open Society, in a general call for expressions of interest for a grant that was not specific to abortion.”

The foundation said the legal scope of the money given to Amnesty was determined by the language of the grant agreement, and not any other document.

“The Open Society Foundations trusts that Sipo will rely only on this document to determine whether the terms of this grant comply with Irish law.”

Under Irish law, third parties cannot receive funding for political purposes from foreign donors. Colm O’Gorman, chief executive of Amnesty, has said it at all times made clear to Sipo what it was using the €137,000 for, and that Amnesty was told last year the grant did not fall within the Sipo remit.


On Thursday, Sipo said it had no comment to make on Open Society’s statement.

In a statement last week, Sipo said that in 2016, having heard of the grants, it made inquiries and received assurances from the recipients that the donations were not for political purposes.

However, it said, it recently received new information that indicated the donations “were indeed for political purposes”.

Sipo has said it sought and received written confirmation from the donor that the funding was for explicitly political purposes.

“As it is the intent of the donor that determines whether a donation is a political donation, the funding very clearly fell within the Act’s prohibitions. The Commission has issued directives to the recipients to return the prohibited donations.”

The bodies that received the funding in 2016 were Amnesty, Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland, and the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA). Abortion Rights returned €25,000 after it was initially contacted by Sipo. The IFPA is in correspondence with Sipo. Mr O'Gorman has challenged Sipo's right to order the money be returned.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent