Liam Herrick, CEO of the ICCL Credit: ICCL social media

Gravy Train? How public money keeps the ICCL in business.

Liam Herrick, CEO of the ICCL. Credit: ICCL

For years the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has claimed to be an entirely independent organisation which does not accept government support or money. A Gript investigation, however, found that between 2011 and 2019, the ICCL received somewhere in the region of €2 million in public money from the EU, according to the European Commission’s Financial Transparency System (FTS). That represents over 20% of the ICCL’s total income over the period.

The ICCL was also involved in several other projects, with other NGOs, which the EU funded. Those projects were valued at €813,758, but it is unclear how much of that money went to the ICCL.

The figures given by the FTS do not match those given in the ICCL Annual Reports. In 2019 the FTS listed the ICCL as having received €56,928 of EU funding, but the ICCL Annual Report for that year only lists a single grant from the EU – €10,628 from the European Commission. In 2018 the FTS shows the ICCL as having received €12,495 from the EU – ICCL’s Annual Report said that they received €339,107 in “EU Project Funding.”

The ICCL has also accepted money from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), even though the IHREC is an entirely state funded entity. This appears to have begun in 2017 as the closure of Atlantic Philanthropies, which had donated over $12 million to the ICCL, meant the ICCL had to seek alternative funding.

The IHREC say that, between 2018 and 2020, they gave the ICCL €40,850 – the IHREC figures that make up that total do not match with those found in the ICCL’s Annual Reports, which state that the IHREC, between 2018 and 2019, gave €20,602 to the ICCL.

The ICCL has long claimed that its independence from government funding is a nearly unique strength of the ICCL in the Irish NGO space. Muiris Ó Ceidigh, the chair of the ICCL’s board, went so far as to say that “the strength of ICCL is our independence…that independence is something we cherish and which we guard and protect.”

And yet it is clear the ICCL has been accepting public money for nearly a decade, if not longer. This is of particular interest as a constant theme from the ICCL is that they rely on their membership to support the organisation due to their lack of government funding. Looking at the ICCL accounts there is no evidence that membership fees or supporter donations have made up a substantial part of the ICCL’s income at any time in the last decade.

Graphic from the ICCL’s social media.

The income of the ICCL comes mostly from foreign organisations rather than its membership or Irish philanthropic bodies. In 2017, for instance, the ICCL had an income of €1,408,235. According to the ICCL’s 2017 Annual Report only €1,000 of that came from donations, with €736,927 coming from trusts and another €670,308 coming from grants.

Looking at the ICCL’s accounts it is unclear how many paying members the ICCL has, and the ICCL has not responded to questions related to membership, but it does not appear to have a particularly large membership base.

In 2018 the ICCL’s Annual Report said it took in €5,728 in membership fees. Given that the cheapest annual membership of the ICCL is €15, for students and the unwaged, or €40 for a standard membership, it would indicate that the ICCL membership, if made up entirely of students and the unemployed, consisted of fewer than 400 paying members in 2018. If all of those membership had been bought at the normal membership price the ICCL would have fewer than 140 paying members. The actual number of paying members of the ICCL, in 2018, is likely to have been between those two figures.

Prior to publication Gript asked the ICCL if they thought accepting EU funding meshed with their often-stated public commitment that they are “an entirely independent organisation” which “does not rely on government support or funding.” We received no response.

Gript also asked the ICCL why the figures given in their annual reports do not match those available on the Financial Transparency System or those presented by the IHREC. We will update this article should we receive a response.

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