Status of Iona Institute challenged in letter to Charities Regulator

Atheist Ireland compares regulator stance on repeal mural at Project to Iona campaigns

The  Maser artwork outside the Project Art Centre is painted over by artistic director Cian O Brien. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

The Maser artwork outside the Project Art Centre is painted over by artistic director Cian O Brien. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

 

The status of the socially conservative Iona Institute has been questioned in correspondence sent to the Charities Regulator, which notes it is listed as both a private company and registered as a charity.

A letter from Atheist Ireland points out the Iona Institute is currently “campaigning actively” against repealing the Eighth Amendment.

The letter says the institute is a “private company limited by guarantee” but also “registered as a charity, under the charity category of ‘advancement of religion’.”

Atheist Ireland notes that the Charities Regulator instructed the Project Arts Centre to remove a mural supporting repeal of the Eighth Amendment, by artist Maser, on the grounds that the charity was engaging in political activity that was not directly related to the advancement of the centre’s charitable purpose – the advancement of education.

Political issues

It says the Iona Institute “campaigns regularly on other political issues”. Iona “enjoys these financial benefits of having charitable status under the religion category, while enjoying the political benefits of making mostly secular arguments in this and other political campaigns, and indeed explicitly denying that it is advancing religion”.

The letter asks the regulator if “all of Iona’s political activity directly related only to advancing religion, as required by the charity category under which it is registered”.

It also queried if “all of Iona’s political activity directly related only to advancing the Christian religion, as required by the main object in its memorandum of association”.

It claimed that the Iona Institute “does not meet the criteria of a religion. It often publicly positions itself as a secular think-tank, it makes mostly secular arguments for its political positions, and at times it explicitly denies that it is advancing religion, despite enjoying the financial benefits of being registered as a charity with the specific object of advancing religion”.

Iona Institute director David Quinn described the Atheist Ireland letter as “ridiculous”. He noted how charities such as Barnardos and the ISPCC played an active role in the Children’s Rights campaign while the Vincent de Paul Society campaigned on the budget every year, and homeless charities were involved in ongoing campaigns on the housing issue.