Common Purpose is most likely an entity that most people in Ireland have never heard of. It is listed here as a charitable organisation among a raft of Non Governmental Organisations, and its footprint would appear to be relatively small in comparison to some of its better known counterparts.
According to its 2020 annual report, it had an income of just €219,834. It had three employees and their salaries and other administration costs accounted for the bulk of spending. There is no details provided with regards to where their income came from.
However, if you read the report itself you discover that the bulk of Common Purpose income comes from programmes which it provides and in which parts of the state are significant participants. In 2020 these included four leadership programmes. They list over 70 entities including several government departments, An Garda Siochana, the prison service, the defence forces, as well as state companies, a number of housing NGOs and even the Irish National Teachers Organisation and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
A series of Parliamentary Questions for Rural Independent Laois-Offaly TD, Carol Nolan revealed that between 2015 and to date in 2021, a range of government departments have spent €309,529 for officials to take part in programmes organised by Common Purpose, Among the biggest spenders are the Department of Education at €104,709.
The warm relationship the entity enjoys with the state is also underlined by the reference by CEO Dara Connolly to Common Purpose having “availed of the Government’s various Covid-19 financial support measures.”
The organisation also lives rent free on the public tab as the small print of the financial statement informs us that “the company operates in premises provided by the Office of Public Works at no cost” (p17.)
Which begs the question as to why the state feels compelled to allow what is in effect a private company the free use of a public building in Smithfield. The building is also the address of the Hepatitis C and HIV compensation tribunal and is listed as a government premises which according to a reply to a Parliamentary Question from Peadar Toibín in 2013 is “managed by OPW for the provision of office space for the various government Departments/Agencies.”
Common Purpose is not a state agency. There are also surely more deserving objects of taxpayer charity than an organisation such as Common Purpose which claims to have over 90,000 alumni spread over 67 different countries. It is certainly not short of a few bob, nor connections to corporations who have lots of bobs.
So what exactly do they do, and how influential are they?
Common Purpose was founded in 1989 by Julia Middleton. She had previously worked for the Industrial Society, now the Work Foundation. She was also involved as a co-founder in DEMOS along with Martin Jaques former editor of the Communist Party of Great Britain journal Marxism Today. Jacques is the author of When China Rules the World, and is one of the foremost leftist apologists for the Chinese Communist Party.
Demos was regarded as a key ideological component of the Labour Party under Tony Blair. It and Common Purpose are if you like successors to the British Fabian Society tradition among whose adherents were the Webbs, H.G Wells and George Bernard Shaw. It was a bit ahead of its time actually as its paternalistic view of the proles to whom it had appointed itself as guardians included the belief that their well being was best left to “experts” like themselves. For most of these people, their only contact with the working class was through their servants.
Common Purpose pursues a similar ostensibly social democratic vision with much reference to diversity and inclusion and its clear focus is on building influence among the public sector and NGOs. The Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, is a graduate of Common Purpose courses.
That relationship with the British state became an issue of concern during the 2012 Levenson Inquiry into the British press. It was alleged that Common Purpose was behind a group called Hacked Off which had pushed for a broadening of the scope of the inquiry while a former chairperson of Common Purpose, Sir David Hall, had been appointed as a senior advisor to the inquiry.
As a consequence of this influence, attention was paid to how Common Purpose had managed to build such strong links to the state with one person describing it as “The Left’s version of the old boys network.” Reference was made to the fact that in a five year period prior to 2012, that British government departments, as well as various police services and the BBC had spent well over £1,000,000 on courses provided by Common Purpose.
The organisation is extremely sensitive about all of this, and in 2009 the UK Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that Common Purpose had probably breached the Data Protection Act when it circulated a list of “vexatious” individuals to various public departments because those on the list had lodged Freedom of Information requests on the spending by government departments on Common Purpose training courses.
It would seem that Common Purpose Ireland has also managed to build a fruitful relationship with the Irish state. Former Chairperson Heidi Foster Breslin was appointed to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and is currently CEO of An Cosán which was founded by Katherine Zappone.
Another former Trustee is Denis Leamy who is currently CEO of the Cork Education and Training Board and was formerly CEO of Pobal. The current board is mostly comprised of people from corporate financial backgrounds including people who were senior personnel in Ernst and Young, the Bank of Ireland and Standard Life; as well as the founder of the migrant women’s network AkiDwa, Salome Mbugua who is also a member of the IHREC.
So, it would seem that Common Purpose Ireland despite its relative anonymity is thriving. It will never contest elections, and embodies the strange new corporate Woke ethos that sees its role not in winning public debates, but in recruiting influence and “alumni” among those already in or likely to be in highly influential positions.
It is a kind of bourgeois Leninism. Which is their own business, but why ostensibly ideologically neutral state agencies see fit to allow Common Purpose to train their senior personnel within an ideologically framed paradigm is a matter for inquiry. As is the fact that a private company is allowed to have a public premises at no cost.