Human rights commission calls for review of ‘chilling effect’ electoral laws

Human rights commission calls for review of 'chilling effect' electoral laws

Emily Logan

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has called for a review of the Electoral Acts amid concerns that the legislation may be having a chilling effect on civil society organisations.

In a policy statement, the Commission warned that the State “should avoid placing undue restrictions on wider civil society activity engaging in legitimate advocacy aiming to influence political decision making and policy making, including with regard to human rights and equality issues”.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) is among groups that have raised concerns about the application by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001 and the ‘third party’ registration provisions which apply to organisations “influencing public policy” during election and referendum campaigns.

The Commission has issued a policy statement to all Oireachtas members calling for a review to:

  • Consider how the State ensures an enabling legal framework and a conducive political and public environment for human rights defenders, enabling individuals, groups, civil society organisations and national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights (NHRIs) to freely carry out activities, on a legal basis, consistent with international law and standards, to strive for the protection and promotion of all human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • Set out a clearer links between restrictions placed on ‘third party’ activity/ activity for ‘political purposes’ specific to elections and referendums, rather than wider civil society activity aiming to influence policy making and decision making.
  • Take account of wider reforms now underway in oversight of electoral processes around the development of a statutory Electoral Commission.

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.”

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