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

ICCL incorrectly claimed they cannot legally accept donations of €100 or more

The ICCL has claimed that the 1997 Electoral Act prohibits them from “accepting donations of €100 or more to assist them in seeking social change.” The ICCL went on to compare the current Irish law to laws which exist in Hungary and Russia, and to say that the current law “limits your civil liberties.”

However, the 1997 Electoral Act, as amended in 2001, does not prohibit charities or NGOs from accepting donations of €100 or more to assist them in seeking social change. The relevent provision of the Act only restricts the fundraising of “third parties,” those being organisations who have accepted a donation in excess of €100 for the “political purpose” of influencing public or government policy, or promoting a political party or group. The ICCL is perfectly free to use foreign monies to seek social change and, given that the ICCL is predominantly funded by foreign money, they have done so for many years.

Even setting aside the above point the claimed limit of €100 is incorrect; the Act does prohibit third parties from accepting donations of more than €100,  but only if those donations are anonymous, and third parties are free to accept donations, from a known single source, of up to €2,500 per annum. The law, as it currently stands, also totally bans third parties from accepting donations from foreign sources.

It’s possible that the ICCL meant that the restrictions on third parties are so onerous that, on a practical level, they mean the ICCL has to refuse all donations of €100 or more, but even if we accept that point it is not true that this impacts on all donations “seeking social change” – it is only correct in so far as it refers to donations which are offered to the ICCL for political purposes.

It’s relevant here to discuss the ICCL’s funding because, whilst the ICCL commonly portrays itself as an independent organisation funded by grassroots activists, a review of its accounts finds that the ICCL is nearly entirely dependent on the funds granted to it by a small number of foreign organisations.

In 2020 less than 5% of the ICCL’s funding came from membership fees and donations. This is against an income of roughly €510,000 from foreign foundations, trusts, and EU funding. Four organisations: the Luminate Group; the International Network for Civil Liberties Organisations; the Sigrid Rausing Trust; and the Open Society Foundation, together made up nearly 80% of the ICCL’s total funding in 2020. Given this the ICCL would be devastated if forced to register as a third party, a situation which indicates the issue here lies less with the law and more with the fact that the ICCL have allowed themselves to become reliant on the support of these organisations rather than the support of the Irish public.

In relation to support from the Irish government, despite repeated claims that the ICCL does not accept government support or funding, the organisation took roughly €18,000 from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in 2020, an organisation which is entirely government funded.

Given that the vast majority of the ICCL’s funding comes from foreign sources they have a rather direct financial incentive to have the existing restrictions removed, as do a substantial number of other Irish NGOs. Removing the restriction would both allow these charities to use those foreign donations directly for political activity and allow these organisations to apply for foreign funding which is explicitly for political activity.

None of this is to say that the ICCL or their fellow travellers are incorrect that the Act should be amended, and the restrictions removed, but there are legitimate reasons why a country might want to limit the ability of foreign organisations to directly interfere in its political process. Not the least of these is that an organisation dependent upon a small number of foreign organisations, and which is therefore not accountable to the general public, could be influenced by those organisations to push for political and cultural change that is not in the best interest of the country and its people. That concern is part of the reason why all Irish political parties are required to operate under the restrictions laid out in the Electoral Act.

Liam Herrick, the Director of the ICCL, has informed Gript that the tweet containing the initial claim was “an error” and should have read “anonymous donation of more than 100 euro.” Unfortunately that correction is in and of itself incorrect, as it does not make the distinction that restrictions only apply to third parties and not all NGOs “seeking social change.” Mr Herrick did not respond to a question asking if the ICCL’s interest in the removing of the restrictions on third parties was due to a legitimate belief that the restrictions limit civil liberties or due to the ICCL possessing a financial incentive to seek the removal of the restrictions.

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