Civil liberties group calls for lift of electoral laws ‘chilling’ rights groups

Liam Herrick

Liam Herrick

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has called on the Government to lift strict electoral laws that are having a “chilling effect” on human rights organisations.

It said it shares concerns raised by Deirdre Garvey, CEO of The Wheel, over the application by the the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001.

Liam Herrick, ICCL executive director, said Irish civil society “is now placed in a position of legal uncertainty, with restrictions on funding and the threat of criminal sanctions becoming more commmonplace”.

He added: “While we do not believe Government or the Oireachtas intended these restrictions to arise, the reality is that there is now a ‘chilling effect’ on the work of human rights organisations.”

The ICCL identifies the ‘third party’ registration provisions of the Electoral Acts – which apply to organisations “influencing public policy” during election and referendum campaigns – as problematic.

However, it said that SIPOC had taken a balanced approach to the implementation of the law until some point this year.

Now, it said, organisations have been instructed to return funding, demanded to register as third parties or corporate donors, threatened with prosecution, and burdened with queries into operations.

Mr Herrick (pictured) said: “ICCL is particularly concerned that some of our fellow human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Education Equality, have recently been requested to return funding under the legislation – a request that for Education Equality represents the termination of its existence as an NGO.”

He added: “It is abundantly clear that this law is fundamentally incompatible with the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association as enshrined in international human rights law and ICCL calls for immediate action to amend this.”