Stunned UN official: “No, seriously, is everyone in Ireland in an NGO?”

When even the UN, the world’s largest NGO (non governmental organisation) is noticing that Ireland has a vast number of NGOs, we might have a problem:

“NGO” is sort of a misleading term, to be fair. Non-Governmental kind of implies, to the casual reader, that these are truly independent, civil-society driven organisations made up of citizen activists who are just trying to make the country better.

In reality, almost every single one of them is state-funded, paid by the taxpayer to lobby the Government, to the tune of €5.5billion annually:

“The Government funds more than half of the €10.5billion Ireland’s non-profit organisations generate annually, according to a report from Benefacts, the social enterprise that promotes the transparency of NGOs.

The €5.5bn contributed by the Government to nonprofits amounts to 8.2% of all expenditure by the exchequer, according to the report which is due to be published this week”

In fairness, it’s important to note that a very substantial chunk of this money goes directly towards providing services to the public in areas like healthcare and education. It doesn’t all go on lobbying and campaigning. A lot of it, however, does.

Bear in mind, last week’s event at the UN in Geneva, which we covered at length here, was just on one aspect of social policy – hate speech and racism. You might think that it would be a good idea for the country to have one organisation speaking on this subject – maybe the immigrant council – but nobody seems to know exactly how many different Irish NGOs turned up. It was, self-evidently, a lot.

One of the many problems with all of this is that it’s becoming very difficult, increasingly, to determine whether the NGO sector is lobbying the Government, or whether it has actually become the Government. Almost every department is now shadowed by state-funded lobby groups who play a very significant role in determining public policy. These are not independent think tanks, like we see in the UK or the USA, but partisan groups with set policy goals. For example, on the current hot button of so-called “hate speech”, these organisations are not seeking a balanced policy outcome, but explicitly campaigning for the banning of speech they do not like.

Ireland is pouring vast sums of money into these groups, and they are increasingly working together to implement a shared vision – one that is on the extreme end of modern liberalism. On almost any issue you can think of – gender quotas, trans legislation, smoking and vaping, hate speech, sex education, immigration, crime, and so on – there is no NGO arguing for a classically liberal position. It doesn’t matter whether they are the women’s council, or Trocaire, or the council for civil liberties, or amnesty Ireland, or anything else. On every single issue, they all think the same thing. The only difference between them is which organisation takes the lead on each issue.

Having a large and vibrant civil society is a worthy goal in any country, but while the Irish civil society is very large, it is anything but vibrant. You will never, ever hear representatives from the women’s council having an argument with representatives from the council for civil liberties on the airwaves, because there is no subject on which those two organisations disagree. So, what’s the need for both of them? Why are we funding two separate groups that think the exact same things? It’s not that different from setting up a second department of education and calling it the department for schools.

The truth, of course, is that these groups play a vital role in our politics, even if that role is entirely poisonous. Having many organisations that think the exact same thing is perfect when you want to be able to say that your campaign is endorsed by over sixty civil society organisations. Having sixty organisations multiplies your power immensely, because it means you have sixty times the number of people working to advance the same ideas.

It’s the common agricultural policy, but for middle-class liberals. And we’re all paying for it. To the amusement, even, of the United Nations.




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