Amnesty International and George Soros
Sir, – Further to “Soros donation helped to boost Amnesty’s revenue by 8% per cent” (News, January 14th), the grant in question represented approximately 2.5 per cent of our total income in either of the two years to which it applied. The growth in our income is almost exclusively due to a large increase in our membership and supporter base which has doubled in recent years. The Electoral Act goes far beyond seeking to prohibit foreign donations to groups involved in elections or referendums. Its “third party” provisions are so broadly drawn that they capture any advocacy work that might be undertaken at any time by a very wide range of civil society organisations. The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipoc) itself has stated this concern. The Act doesn’t just ban overseas funding for such legitimate advocacy, it also imposes near-impossible restrictions on domestic funding sources. We do not object to restriction or regulation of funding for civil society groups, where it is fair and reasonable. This law is neither.
Amnesty International is not simply refusing to comply with the law. We believe that Sipoc’s decision is unjust, and illustrates the serious threat to civil society rights and freedoms posed by this law. As a human rights organisation, we have a responsibility to challenge a law that violates civil society’s human rights such as freedom of association and expression.
We can also see why the State would more zealously protect elections and referendums from undue influence. For this very reason, we registered with Sipoc as a third party when, in 2015, we campaigned for a Yes vote in the marriage equality referendum. If, as appears likely, the Government puts forward a human rights-compliant proposal in the forthcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment, we would again register as a third party as we would be campaigning for a particular electoral outcome. However, we do not consider our general human rights work, which is not directed at a particular electoral or referendum outcome, to fall legitimately within the remit of the Electoral Act.
Ireland has, perhaps unintentionally, found itself among a group of countries, including Hungary and Poland, which are cracking down on the vital work of civil society groups by targeting their funding. We do not believe we are above the law, but we cannot simply comply with Sipoc’s instruction without first challenging what we believe is an unjust and unreasonable decision based on a bad law. – Yours, etc,
Ireland, Dublin 2.