The Irish Times view on electoral law and foreign donations: a price worth paying

Opening the door for overseas money in politically contentious campaigns here could have negative consequences

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has called on the Government to change the wording of the Electoral Act, concerning donations for political purposes by international organisations and philanthropists, because they may have a "chilling effect" on the activities of civil society groups. This should be done, it says, in the context of establishing an independent Electoral Commission.

Long-standing IHREC concerns were confirmed last year when the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) directed Amnesty International in Ireland to return a €137,000 donation from a philanthropic foundation, used to campaign for the removal of the Eighth Amendment. Amnesty argued the money had been used for a human rights purpose rather than a political purpose. The case ended when Sipo acknowledged its procedures had been "procedurally flawed".

Recent Electoral Acts were designed to replace influential corporate donations by State subventions; to control electoral spending and to limit foreign interference. Restrictions were placed on external funding for political purposes, involving third-party activity, particularly where elections and referendums were concerned.

For many people, there is little or no difference between political activity, specific to elections and referendums, and rights-based advocacy by civil society groups designed to influence government policy and decision-making. They represent the ebb and flow of political interaction in a democracy. That balance could be upset, however, along with public acceptance of outcomes, if outside intervention and funding were seen as determining factors.


Extreme geopolitical interventions, such as electoral interference in the United States and the UK, provide a warning. No matter how well-meaning the case for legislative change undoubtedly is, opening the door for foreign philanthropic organisations to engage in politically contentious campaigns here could have negative consequences. Local fundraising may be more difficult. But it is a price worth paying.