CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Ireland

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Last updated on 15.01.2019 at 12:40

Ireland-Overview

Generally, people in Ireland are free to form associations in order to advance collective interests, to gather peacefully in public places, and to debate and share ideas without interference.

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Removal of blasphemy from constitution "an important step" for Ireland

Removal of blasphemy from constitution "an important step" for Ireland

During an October 2018 referendum, Voters decided by a large majority to remove the offence of blasphemy from Ireland's constitution.

Expression

In October 2018, Irish voters decided by an overwhelming majority to remove blasphemy as a criminal offence in the constitution. The provision, which was included in Article 40.6.1˚i of the Constitution of Ireland, had been in place since the constitution was written in 1937, at a time when the Catholic church held significant influence over public life in the country. The proposal put before voters in the referendum removed blasphemy as an offence but retained the "publication or utterance of seditious or indecent matter" as criminal offences. The referendum saw 64.85% vote yes to remove the offence of blasphemy. Rights group the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) welcomed the result, saying it was:

"an important step for free speech and the modernisation of our democracy...This positive result brings Ireland into line with international best practice in human rights, as called for by the UN Human Rights Committee."

ICCL also used the opportunity to highlight the continued need for hate crime legislation, something which is lacking in Ireland, but which is required by European and international human rights law.

Peaceful Assembly 

Protests on the right to affordable housing are ongoing in Ireland. These have led to tensions with police, which was previously reported by the CIVICUS Monitor. Recent protests in the Roscommon town of Strokestown were sparked by strong community reaction to the eviction of local residents. Thousands of people also marched in Dublin on 1st December to urge the government to take action on Ireland's continuing housing crisis, which has seen the number of homeless people in the country rise to almost 10,000. A coalition of civic organisations, including unions, community action groups and providers of services to homeless people, supported the demonstration.

Association

In October 2018, the Irish government opened a consultation on the Regulation of Online Political Advertising in Ireland. CIVICUS had previously reported the controversy which emerged in the midst of the referendum on abortion in Ireland, when groups supporting a "no" vote were accused of opaque funding received for online advertisements on social media. Civil society had called for a regulation on the transparency of this funding, especially for the practice known as "microtargeting". The Irish Council for Civil Liberties stressed the need for regulating “campaign spending rather than donations, and all campaigning directed at / received by people within the jurisdiction of Ireland”.

Also related to campaigning during elections, civil society continues to voice its concerns about provisions of the Electoral Act which hamper freedom of expression and association - something already extensively reported by the CIVICUS Monitor. A petition to reform the Electoral Act was launched by a coalition on NGOs and has so far collected over 1,200 signatures and the support of over 60 civil society organisations working on a wide range of policy issues.

Association

Everyone has the right to freely form and join an association in Ireland.

Everyone has the right to freely form and join an association in Ireland. The law recognises many different types of associations, including cooperatives, religious organisations, trade unions and foundations. Civil society organisations can choose to register or remain unincorporated. In order to be eligible for charitable status, an organisation must serve the public benefit, a term that is defined by the Charities Act of 2009. However, the Act fails to recognise the promotion of human rights as ‘a purpose that is beneficial to the community’, thus technically excluding these type of organisations from registering as charities. All charities must be registered with the Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA) in order to operate in the country and the legislation penalises the failure to do so. Although organisations are able to receive foreign funding, the Electoral Act restricts national donations and completely bans foreign donations for certain types of advocacy and campaign work. An amendment to the Act in 2001 regulates third parties, defined as any other entity besides a political party that receives money for a political purpose. The definition of political purpose is broad and could potentially impact all non-governmental organisations in the country. A further concern stems from rules governing state funds received by local groups involved in providing community-based services. Civil society advocates highlight threats to the sector’s ability to conduct independent advocacy because of grant agreements which prevent state funds being used to ‘obtain changes in the law or related government policies or to persuade people to adopt a particular view on a question of public policy.’

Peaceful Assembly

People in Ireland are able to gather peacefully in public. The constitution guarantees this right but states that legislation may limit this right in order to control ‘a breach of the peace or to be a danger or nuisance to the general public and to prevent or control meetings in the vicinity of either House of the Oireachtas’.

People in Ireland are able to gather peacefully in public. The constitution guarantees this right but states that legislation may limit this right in order to control ‘a breach of the peace or to be a danger or nuisance to the general public and to prevent or control meetings in the vicinity of either House of the Oireachtas’. There is no notification requirement and a demonstration can be restricted on the grounds of concern for morality. While large-scale protests are common and respected in practice, a protest movement against the imposition of charges on the use of water has brought the state and demonstrators into conflict. Following a water charges demonstration in Jobstown, Dublin in 2014 during which Ireland’s deputy prime minister was trapped in a police car, 19 people, including a 17-year-old, were charged with false imprisonment. Critics allege that the charges, which carry a life sentence upon conviction, are politically-motivated and amount to the state’s criminalisation of the right to protest. Protests on water charges and a range of other social and political issues continue to take place regularly in Ireland. In 2016, thousands of people gathered in Dublin calling for the repeal of restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Expression

Press freedom is guaranteed in Ireland’s 1937 constitution and is generally respected in practice.

Press freedom is guaranteed in Ireland’s 1937 constitution and is generally respected in practice. In 2009, Ireland adopted the Defamation Act repealing criminal defamation laws. However, blasphemy is an offence under the Irish Constitution. Media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few business people, which is a cause of concern for civil society as it is a threat to pluralism and democracy. People in Ireland can access public information through the 2014 Freedom of Information Act, which replaced earlier legislation. However, laws requiring police officers to obtain authorisation before speaking to the press limit this right in practice. Journalists and media workers can generally work freely, and attacks on them are rare.