Amnesty hits out on foreign funding

The head of Amnesty Ireland has said if the human rights organisation is breaking the law by accepting donations from foreign philanthropic organisations, then “so is the Irish Government”.

Colm O’Gorman made the claim as he defended Amnesty Ireland’s decision not to return funding it received for its campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment, despite being ordered to do so by the ethics watchdog.

Last Saturday, the Irish Examiner reported how the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) had informed Amnesty Ireland that €137,000 it sought and received from the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations was illegal under the Electoral Act.

The grant was towards Amnesty’s ‘My Body My Rights Ireland’ campaign, which it has described as “a global campaign to defend sexual and reproductive rights for all”.

Campaign financing laws prohibit overseas donations to bodies who use the funding for political purposes.

Mr O’Gorman told the Today with Sean O’Rourke programme on RTÉ Radio 1 that Amnesty would challenge Sipo’s ruling.

“If Amnesty is in breach of the legislation for accepting these donations, so is the Irish State. The Irish State has benefited from hundreds of millions of euros in grants from philanthropic foundations that set about influencing policy, government policy, here in Ireland,” said Mr O’Gorman.

David Quinn of the Iona Institute also appeared on the programme and said while he believes the Electoral Act is too strict and “needs to be made more permissive in regards to donations”, Amnesty should observe the law.

“I will join Colm in campaigning to change the Electoral Act, I am happy to see the Electoral Act changed, but, in the meantime, you’ve got to obey it and not hold yourself above it and there also there can’t be double standards in how organisations are treated as to how they go about trying to raise money,” said Mr Quinn.

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