Robert Troy scandal reminds us why we must strengthen, not weaken, SIPO laws
The Robert Troy scandal is a reminder why we must strengthen, not weaken, the SIPO (Standards in Public Office) laws. They are intended to protect democracy from the undue influence of money on politics, whether that be through politicians having financial conflicts of interest or through wealthy donors influencing political decisions by funding activities that have a political purpose.
Former Minister Troy says he did not understand the SIPO laws. But they are quite clear, and they are important for democracy. Atheist Ireland is registered with SIPO as a third party. We function perfectly while complying with them. When we have had any doubt about any activity, we have contacted SIPO and asked them, then complied with what they told us.
Atheist Ireland has lobbied for the SIPO law to be strengthened to capture political activities by religious bodies. We are the only NGO that is actively campaigning on this issue.
Religious bodies including the Catholic Church can spend any amount of money on political purposes, while simply claiming that it only seeks donations for religious and not political purposes.
This is not just a theoretical concern. The Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland are both on the register of lobbyists. They regularly seek to influence political decisions, and are part of the dialogue process between the Government and religious and philosophical bodies.
Despite this, religions can escape SIPO obligations simply because they are religions. They can receive any amount of donations from abroad as long as the purpose of the donation is for religious purposes.
Atheist Ireland has lobbied to amend this situation. You can read about that here:
- International funding of political campaigns against sexual and reproductive rights
- Submission to the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage re the Electoral Reform Bill 2020.
The Iona Institute are registered with SIPO. They are also a registered charity. They can currently accept donations from international sources and use them for political purposes. None of this is illegal.
The SIPO law should be strengthened to ensure that such donations are subject to the SIPO limits, whether they are made during elections or, or between elections when most political influence takes place.
Atheist Ireland has consistently raised these issues with the Government, TDs and Senators, Oireachtas Committees, and SIPO. We will continue to do so when the new Electoral Commission, established under the Electoral Reform Act, examines this issue in order to make recommendations to the Government.