The Catholic Church, the HAI and Iona have all failed to register their political activity with SIPO

Atheist Ireland has registered with SIPO, the Standards in Public Office Commission, as we are a body that seeks to influence public policy. We have also written to the Standards Commission asking them to ask the Catholic Church, the Humanist Association of Ireland, and the Iona Institute to also register with them.

One of Atheist Ireland’s policies is to promote integrity in public life, and an end to the nod-and-wink approach to Irish politics, where we are expected to ignore religious discrimination by pretending it doesn’t exist, and where the law can be ignored or fudged to mean whatever people want it to mean.

We know why the Humanist Association of Ireland may be reluctant to register with SIPO, as it has it has also signed up for a different law (the Civil Registration Act) that allows it to nominate marriage solemnisers on condition that it does not promote a political cause. Ironically, that law also requires that the HAI should be ethical.

But why have the Catholic Church and the Iona Institute not registered? They constantly complain that religion is being driven from the public square. Registering with SIPO is an opportunity for them to put their feet firmly in the public square. We invite them to join us in the democratic arena while acting in accordance with the laws of the State.

What is SIPO and what is a Third Party?

The Standards in Public Office Commission has a supervisory role under the Ethics Acts and the Electoral Acts. These provide for disclosure of interests, including any material factors which could influence Government Ministers, members of parliament, or public servants in performing their official duties.

People or organisations who seek political change come under three categories: a registered political party, an election candidate or a Third Party.

A Third Party means any individual or group who or which accepts, in a particular calendar year, a donation for political purposes exceeding the value of €100. The donation can be in money, property or goods, free use of property or goods, free supply of services, or a donation in kind.

Also, a Third Party cannot accept for political purposes a donation exceeding €100 where the name and address of the donor are not known; a cash donation exceeding €200; a donation from a corporate donor exceeding €200 in any calendar year unless the corporate donor is registered with SIPO; a donation from anyone (other than an Irish citizen) who lives outside the island of Ireland; or an aggregate donation or donations from a single donor exceeding €2,500 in any calendar year.

Political purposes for a Third Party include any of the following purposes:

  1. To promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, any interests of a political party of politician;
  2. To present, directly or indirectly, any policies or a particular policy of a third party;
  3. To present, directly or indirectly, any comments of a third party (with regard to any policies of any political party, political group, politician, third party or candidate) at an election or referendum or otherwise;
  4. To promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the interests of a third party in connection with the conduct or management of any campaign conducted with a view to promoting or procuring a particular outcome in relation to a policy or policies or functions of the Government or any public authority;
  5. To promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the election of a candidate, or to present any policies or views of a candidate, at an election or otherwise;
  6. Otherwise to seek to influence the outcome of the election or a referendum or a campaign.

Quite clearly Atheist Ireland, the Catholic Church, the Humanist Association of Ireland and the Iona Institute all fall under several of these categories. Yet of these four bodies, only Atheist Ireland has registered with the Standards Commission as a Third Party.

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has arguably influenced public policy in Ireland more than any other Third Party, and it continues today to engage in activities that clearly fall within the “political purposes” categories of this law.

On 13 April 2015, A spokesman for Ireland’s Catholic Bishops has said the Church may be forced to end the practice of civil registration of marriages conducted in churches if the same-sex marriage referendum passes, as the church and state definitions of marriage will hbe fundamentally different.

This is clearly a political position, not a theological one. Based on its own argument, the Catholic Church should already have stopped performing the civil aspects of weddings after the divorce referendum, which has already changed the definition of state marriage to make it fundamentally different from that of Catholic Church marriage.

On 13 March 2013, the Catholic Church made a submission to the Constitutional Convention on the issue of same-sex marriage, in which it said that defining the institution of marriage as a voluntary union of one man and one woman does not constitute unjust discrimination, and that it would be damaging to the common good should civil law render same sex unions equivalent to marriage.

On 10 March 2015, the Catholic Bishops Conference said that “We cannot support an amendment to the Constitution which redefines marriage and effectively places the union of two men, or two women, on a par with the marriage relationship between a husband and wife which is open to the procreation of children.”

On 10 January 2013, the Catholic Church attended and spoke at parliamentary hearings in the Seanad chamber on proposed abortion legislation. The Bishop of Elphin asked the Oireachtas to consider several policies, that did not involve legislating for abortion, including guidelines which continue to exclude the direct and intentional killing of the unborn, or a referendum to overturn the X case judgment.

On 18 December 2012, the four Catholic Archbishops of Ireland issues a joint statement in response to the decision by the Government to legislate for abortion, which was clearly issued with a view to promoting or procuring a particular outcome in relation to this Government policy.

The Catholic Church, like Atheist Ireland, is a partner in the structured dialogue process between the Irish Government and religious and nonreligious philosophical bodies. A Minister for State at the Department of the Taoiseach has described this process in the Dail as being intended to assist the Government in developing policies into the future.

The Humanist Association of Ireland

The Humanist Association of Ireland also engages in activities that clearly fall within the “political purposes” categories of this law.

On 15 April 2015, the HAI called for a yes vote in the upcoming marriage equality referendum.

On 7 April 2015, the HAI said that it had been in dialogue with the Government since 2007 on making access to schools more equitable for people of no religion but the organisation’s views had been ignored. It described a clause in the Admission to Schools Bill as “simply outrageous.”

On 24 March 2015, the HAI launched a poster campaign about schools admissions policy, saying of this policy that “This is simply wrong.. It is unconscionable that the State can stand over this.”

On 23 January 2015, the HAI said that the Government could either fine schools or lower capitation grants for schools which insisted on proof of religion in admissions.

On 30 June 2014, the HAI threatened to take legal action against the State over the interpretation of legislation which has stopped it conducting outdoor ceremonies. The HAI said it had had multiple meetings with the General Registrar about this issue.

The HAI website, on its about page, says that it makes appropriate submissions to Government for changes in the Constitution, Legislation and State practices; and organizes formal campaigns to further the aims of the Association.

The HAI website, on its campaigns page, says that on an ongoing basis, the HAI is working towards a secular state and the equal treatment of people of no religion in the Constitution, in legislation and other practices of the State and its agencies by campaigning in a number of areas. It then lists the specific changes to the Constitution, laws and State practices that it is campaigning for.

The HAI, like Atheist Ireland, is a partner in the structured dialogue process between the Irish Government and religious and nonreligious philosophical bodies. A Minister for State at the Department of the Taoiseach has described this process in the Dail as being intended to assist the Government in developing policies into the future.

The Iona Institute

The Iona Institute clearly falls within the “political purposes” categories of this law. On the Press Releases section of its website, the Institute links to several press releases that seek to influence public policy with headings such as:

  • State must consider why most European countries ban surrogate motherhood
  • State must respect Catholic ethos of Mater Hospital
  • Child-care policy must respect parental choice and not favour creches over home
  • Health Minister James Reilly should suspend public funding of spunout.ie
  • Government must move to prohibit surrogacy in the interests of children
  • Convention should recommend amending not deleting women in the home provision
  • Permitting assisted suicide would send a terrible signal to vulnerable people
  • Tanaiste’s speech an attack on religious freedom
  • Children’s rights referendum must not give the State excessive power of intervention
  • Government’s surrogacy guidelines must not ‘split’ motherhood or exploit women

The Iona Institute seems to be suggesting that it is not directly campaigning in the upcoming marriage equality referendum. However, content on its website clearly falls under the category “otherwise to seek to influence the outcome of the election or a referendum or a campaign.”

Its front page on 17 April 2015 consists mostly of articles supporting a no vote in the referendum, with headings such as:

  • Our video explains the case for man/woman marriage
  • Religious representatives seek conscience clause in marriage referendum
  • Children have no right to a mother and father says Simon Coveney
  • Does the Yes side believe in the ‘Irish mammy’ or not?
  • The teaching of the Church on marriage today

Also, on 16 April 2015, the Iona Institute criticised multinational companies for calling for a Yes vote in the marriage referendum, and asked whether the Taoiseach would be so keen about multinationals getting involved in Irish politics if they were endorsing particular political parties.

Also, prominent members or patrons of the Institute, including David Quinn, Breda O’Brien and John Murray, have been interviewed on national media promoting what is essentially the policy position of the Iona Institute on the issue. This raises the question as to whether these individuals should be registered as Third parties themselves, if they are in receipt of €100 or more in expenses or kind from the Institute towards these personal political activities?

Summary

One of Atheist Ireland’s policies is to promote integrity in public life, and an end to the nod-and-wink approach to Irish politics, where we are expected to ignore religious discrimination by pretending it doesn’t exist, and where the law can be ignored or fudged to mean whatever people want it to mean.

Atheist Ireland has registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission, as we are a body that seeks to influence public policy. We have also written to the Standards Commission asking them to ask the Catholic Church, the Humanist Association of Ireland, and the Iona Institute to also register with them.

Atheist Ireland

6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    A dumb Paddy April 17, 2015

    so how do we put an end to their illegal influence in irish politics make a donation to each of €101 and then report them and hope the system will bring them to task, I’m pretty sick of trusting the irish “system” and watching myself and my friends getting fucked while thieves, liars, politician, lobbyists and priest are allowed break whatever laws they feel like with impunity. The day is coming when real people, who do genuinely care about this country, not these Cunts who pretend to while seizing power for themselves, will put them all against a wall and I really hope I’m around to see the “New Ireland” that needs to rise from their ashes

  2. Avatar
    Seán April 17, 2015

    “We invite them to join us in the democratic arena while acting in accordance with the laws of the State”

    The impact of this statement, to my mind, is to suggest that previously mentioned organisations may not be acting in accordance with the law? No mention is made of the efforts the Iona Institute has apparently made to comply with the appropriate legislation. I believe they’ve adopted the position that they are legally covered by belonging to an umbrella group which is itself registered with the relevant authorities. It does seem to be some sort of legal subterfuge!

    • Avatar
      steve white April 21, 2015

      what umbrella group

  3. Avatar
    steve white April 19, 2015

    none of them have accepted a donation over €100?

  4. Avatar
    Princemorningstar April 28, 2015

    I wonder if anyone can help me? I’m compiling information on the sinister Iona Institute, and I was wondering if anyone knew whether they are in receipt of any money from the Irish government, or whether they receive tax breaks or exemptions? I would be grateful for any information.

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