Civil liberties group voices concern over charity watchdog’s ‘political art’ ruling

Liam Herrick
Liam Herrick

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has voiced “serious concern” for freedom of expression and association in Ireland following the removal of a mural at the behest of the Charities Regulator.

The regulator ordered the Project Arts Centre charity to remove an artwork reading “Repeal the 8th” because it constituted “political activity” in contravention of the Charities Act 2009.

However, Liam Herrick, director of the ICCL, has criticised the intervention as “a new departure” for the regulator.

Mr Herrick said: “We’d be very concerned about how the regulator defines what is or isn’t political art. Where is the line drawn and who decides that? These are serious freedom of expression questions, especially given that artistic expression is afforded higher protection under human rights law.”

He added: “There are also serious questions about the role of the Charities Regulator in policing the freedom of expression of charities.”

The ICCL has previously raised concerns that the Charities Act 2009 does not include the advancement of human rights as a valid charitable purpose, but does include the advancement of religion.

The civil rights group believes that a religious organisation would be allowed to display a “Save the 8th” mural without breaking the law.

Mr Herrick said: “There is a real danger that this action will lead to civil society organisations being harassed or threatened with complaints to the Charities Regulator whenever they engage with controversial issues and/or that there will be a chilling effect on freedom of speech.”