To summarise the main points of the articles:
The two organisations – which both work out of the same building at 60a Capel St, Dublin – may be required to register as a third party for political lobbying. In doing so, each donation to a third party over €100 must be declared. The maximum possible donation is €2,500. All donors must be Irish citizens or be corporations with offices in Ireland This means that, by and large, donations may not be made from overseas. More on this in a moment.
According to today’s Irish Times article, director of the Pro Life Institute Ltd Niamh Uí Bhriain responded to SIPO stating simply that her group was an “education and awareness group” and that “making the public aware of potential human rights abuses is not political lobbying”.
Not political lobbying, eh? Well, Niamh, I’m afraid the Life Institute website suggests otherwise. I can count five references to either government or TDs on the homepage alone (six if you count the reference to the recent committee hearings). The rotating banner near the top says:
Enda, don’t legalise abortion, or you will never get my vote again.
This sounds very much like political lobbying to me. Indeed, the Life Institute’s sister organisation, Youth Defence, are very well-versed in political lobbying. Over the last number of months they have been focusing on pressuring Taoiseach Enda Kenny not to legislate for abortion, as apparently he made a pre-election promise not to legislate for abortion.
In fact, Fine Gael never made such a “pro-life promise”, as Youth Defence like to call it: the only reference to abortion in the Fine Gael pre-election manifesto was to establish a committee to work out how best to legislate for abortion in line with the X Case ruling. You can read the manifesto here; the abortion bit is in section 4.3, page 24.
But I digress a little. As I said, Youth Defence are lobbying politically, and not only did they even make a phonecall to Enda Kenny during their recent rally in January, they also have a section on their website dedicated to their lobbying efforts, which you can read here.
It is completely disingenuous for the Life Institute and Youth Defence to come out and claim that they are not undertaking political lobbying.
However, there is no legal way to force either group to declare that they’re a third party or other kind of group, according to SIPO. By ignoring requests for clarification and denying that they are political lobby groups they are allowed to continue to accept donations from whoever they wish.
It’s something of an open secret that the Irish pro-life campaign is funded by donors from the USA and has strong links with anti-choice groups based there. This has been covered extensively already, including on the excellent blog Geoff’s Shorts and on The Atlantic, so I’ll just summarise.
In an article in The Sunday Business Post (the article is no longer available online, unfortunately, so I can’t link to it), Joseph Scheidler, spokesperson for Pro-Life Action League in the USA said that Youth Defence was a primary recipient of funds from the United States: “They need the money for publicity. Abortion is about conversion and it’s very hard to convert people in masses, and that is why people like Youth Defence go out into the street.” Scheidler stated that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been given to the Irish anti-choice groups over the years.
It seems that the groups at 60a Capel St are taking full advantage of the loophole in the Electoral Act that stops them from being forced to declare their status as third party political lobbyists. If they were to declare it, they would be denied donations worth potentially thousands of euro from overseas, and they would have to publically show that they are being supported from abroad, something they have not confirmed so far.
A knock-on effect of this would be the lack of income to support their overly extravagant public events and billboard campaigns. Such an admission may also disenfranchise their supporters, and would definitely cause them to be seen in a bad light by the general public (or, should I say, an even worse light).
UPDATE, 4 March 2013: After I wrote this post it came to light that Family & Life are paying for a “fact-finding mission” to the USA for anti-choice Fine Gael members of the Oireachtas. As this is clearly political lobbying, I checked to see if Family & Life are registered as a third party with SIPO. The only reference I can find for them on the SIPO reports is that they did not register as a third party in 2003. Of course, this may have changed in much more recent times, and I’m sure that new reports on third parties will provide further insight into this.
Please check out the newly formed Abortion Rights Campaign, an alliance of various pro-choice groups throughout the country. Also, be sure to keep an eye on #ARCaction on Twitter throughout the 10 Days of Action currently taking place!