Human Rights Commission calls for review of Electoral Act

The body, which protects and promotes human rights and equality, warned that the 1997 Act could be having "a chilling effect" on the funding and activities of civil society organisations.

Human Rights Commission calls for review of Electoral Act

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has called for a review of the Electoral Act.

The body, which protects and promotes human rights and equality, warned that the 1997 Act could be having "a chilling effect" on the funding and activities of civil society organisations.

The Commission detailed its concerns in a policy statement sent to Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, Minister of State John Paul Phelan and Oireachtas members.

It says a review of the Act is needed to consider how the State ensures that the legal framework allows for "a conducive political and public environment for human rights defenders".

This would allow those groups and individuals who are involved in the protection of human rights to carry out their work in a manner which is consistent with international law, the Commission said.

It has also called for a clearer link to be established between restrictions placed on "third party" activity or activity for "political purposes" when compared to wider work by civil society which aims to influence policy making and decision making.

A third issue which the group seeks a review of is the reforms which are now underway on oversight of electoral processes around the development of a statutory Electoral Commission.

IHREC also highlights concerns which were raised in 2003 over the wide scope of the legislation by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO), and more recently in 2018 by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency.

Last November, the Council of Europe called on all member states, including Ireland, to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space in Europe.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said: "Regulation, accountability and transparency in relation to elections and referendums are crucially important to the integrity of our democracy.

"However, the Commission is concerned that the current legislation may serve to undermine the legitimate advocacy work and activity of civil society groups, whose work is also at the heart of our democracy.

“Repressive measures are increasingly being used in Europe and globally to shrink the space in which human rights organisations can function.

Ireland must not, through an unintended consequence of legislative change, give succour to this kind of approach and must instead seek to protect the rights of those who face the greatest barriers to justice.

“Ireland has a strong international reputation as a champion of civil society, having led two UN Human Rights Council resolutions affirming the critical role of civil society actors globally. Here at home, we must respect those same fundamental freedoms that support the legitimate work of civil society actors," she said.

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