(Irish Council for Civic Liberties) Senator Lynn Ruane today launched her bill for reform of the Electoral Act with support from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), Education Equality and Amnesty International.
Senator Ruane said:
“I’m delighted to introduce this reform to support the voices of community and advocacy groups. Ordinary citizens organising together to agitate for progressive change have transformed Ireland in recent years. However, a change to the Electoral Acts made in 2001 has led to a chilling effect on the valid advocacy work of these same groups.”
The bill has been co-sponsored by Independent Senators Lynn Ruane, Alice-Mary Higgins, Colette Kelleher, John Dolan, Frances Black, David Norris, Victor Boyhan, Labour Party Senator Ivana Bacik, Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan and Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield.
April Duff, chairperson of Education Equality, said:
“Education Equality was accused of breaching the Electoral Act over €10,000 seed funding from an Irish donor. We never imagined the Act, designed to regulate election spending, would apply to a group like ours which campaigned for an end to the baptism barrier. SIPOC threatened us with prosecution and eventually we returned most the funding, dissolved the association and transferred to a company limited by guarantee. Now we can’t accept donations of over €100.”
Liam Herrick, executive director of ICCL, said:
“Activism is one of the cornerstones of a democracy. When people can make their voices heard, they can bring about real change in our society. However, this law is undermining that fundamental right – something that has been recognised by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. We urgently need this reform in order to keep our civil society vibrant and effective.”
Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said:
“The Electoral Act is completely at odds with Ireland’s foreign policy. Ireland leads on UN initiatives to defend the space for civil society globally and been a vocal critic of repression in countries like Russia, Hungary and Egypt. Even though the Act was not intended to undermine civil society, its broad wording has clearly been used to silence NGOs working on a range of equality and rights issues. This undermines Ireland’s standing when holding other repressive governments to account.”
ICCL and Amnesty International Ireland have been leading the Coalition for Civil Society Freedom’s call for reform of the Electoral Act for over two years. The Coalition, which also includes The Wheel, Front Line Defenders, Transparency International Ireland and Uplift, has the support of over 60 civil society organisations. Over 1200 people have signed an open letter to the Taoiseach calling for this reform.