Zappone scandal shows need to protect legal definition of political purposes

The Katherine Zappone scandal shows quite clearly what everybody knows: that most political influence is sought and granted or not between elections, not merely during the few weeks of a formal election or referendum campaign.

That is why Atheist Ireland is lobbying to strengthen, not subvert, the definition of political purposes in the Standards in Public Office laws. We want religious organisations to be brought within its scope, so that they cannot claim to raise money for religious purposes yet use it for political purposes.

Here is the submission that we recently made to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Local Government when they were discussing the Electoral Reform Bill 2020.

Other advocacy groups, including the ICCL and Amnesty Ireland, are trying instead to weaken the SIPO laws. They want the phrase political purposes redefined to only include campaigning during the time between the calling and holding of an election or referendum.

The Katherine Zappone scandal shows the absurdity of such a definition. It is obvious to anybody who looks at it objectively that campaigning to influence any public decision, whether by a Government Minister or any other public body, is campaigning for a political purpose, whenever it happens.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Local Government is endorsing the flawed approach of weakening the definition of political purposes to only include the duration of election and referendum campaigns. Atheist Ireland will continue to lobby to protect our democracy from the undue influence of big money when the Electoral Commission Bill next comes before the Oireachtas.

The SIPO laws do not prevent anybody from political lobbying. Nor do they prevent anyone from raising any amount of money for political purposes. We just have to raise it through a lot of small donations, not a small number of large donations. The SIPO laws help to make our politics a battle of ideas, not a battle of bank accounts. They need to be strengthened to incorporate religious groups, not weakened for no good reason.

Atheist Ireland