Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Advocacy activities of main groups in debate are funded by donors at home and overseas

Anti-abortion campaign supporters outside the Dáil in AprilFUNDING: Two anti-abortion groups have confirmed they receive funds from abroad but insist the amounts are small, while a new American organisation run by a former Cóir worker aims to “help Ireland remain abortion-free”.

The Dublin-based Pro-Life Campaign and Life Institute both say they expect to increase their spending this year on “educational” projects. 

Cora Sherlock, the spokeswoman for the Pro-Life Campaign, based on Lower Baggot Street, said more than €200,000 was spent last year and that figure was likely to increase in 2013 “given the current debate on abortion”. 

Asked if the organisation had received donations for political and campaigning purposes last year, Ms Sherlock said a “small sum”.

“However, given the Government’s plans, it is inevitable that political advocacy will form a big part of what we do in 2013,” she said. “We have received small amounts from abroad but nothing significant. The Pro-Life Campaign does not actively fundraise abroad and any monies received are spent on educational efforts.”

Niamh Uí Bhriain, the spokeswoman for the Capel Street-based Life Institute, said her organisation ran campaigns in conjunction with Youth Defence, which has the same address. 

Asked if the organisation had received donations for political and campaigning purposes last year, Ms Uí Bhriain said the organisation engaged only in “awareness and educational projects”.

‘Very little’ 

She said “very little” funds were received from abroad. The Pro-Life Campaign is registered with the Standards in Public Office commission (Sipo); the Life Institute is not.

Scott Schittl is the director of Life House Ireland, which describes itself as an “American, tax-exempt” organisation. During the second Lisbon Treaty referendum in 2009, he was campaign co-ordinator for Cóir, which operated from the same Capel Street address as Youth Defence and the Life Institute. Life House Ireland’s donation web page suggests amounts of $20-$5,000. 

“In our bylaws, we have stringent tests to prevent any contribution from going to anything but informational and educational projects,” it states.

Separately, Family and Life, based on Mountjoy Square in Dublin, has a campaign target fund of €40,000. The organisation’s director, David Manly, invites supporters to join its “eternal friends society”, reserved for those including the organisation in their will or estate. 

“Our opponents are awash with money, some of which comes from your taxes,” Mr Manly says on the site.

Sipo has confirmed it is seeking or has sought answers from six groups not registered with the ethics watchdog. On the pro-choice side, the groups are the Irish Family Planning Association, Action on X and Choice Ireland, while on the anti-abortion side the groups are the Life Institute, Youth Defence and Unite for Life.

Action on X says it raised no more than €700 last year to pay for room rental and printing costs. The organisation is an alliance of groups and individuals, including Irish Choice Network, Choice Ireland, Irish Feminist Network and Feminist Open Forum.

Printing costs 

One group affiliated to it, the Irish Choice Network, said it had raised €1,500 in 2011 to cover printing costs for posters and information leaflets through individual donations of less than €100. The Irish Choice Network said it had raised a further €1,400 to go towards the development of a national “abortion rights campaign”.

Some anti-abortion groups say organisations advocating a pro-choice stance benefit from millions of euro from US philanthropist Chuck Feeney and other sources.

Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Mark Kelly insisted Mr Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies had no say in the content of the organisation’s programmatic work.

“They fund the ICCL because it is a wholly independent human rights watchdog. I have no idea what Chuck Feeney’s position is on abortion, and no interest in finding out,” Mr Kelly said.

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