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Last updated on 15.02.2018 at 11:30

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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Continued concern over impact of Irish Electoral Act on civil society's advocacy activities

Continued concern over impact of Irish Electoral Act on civil society's advocacy activities

On 19th January 2018, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) launched a report on the “Challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU”. In the case of Ireland, the FRA warned against the vague definition of “political purpose” in the Irish Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2001 that was previously reported on the Monitor.

Association

On 19th January 2018, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) launched a report on the “Challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU”. In the case of Ireland, the FRA warned against the vague definition of “political purpose” in the Irish Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2001, something highlighted in our last report for Ireland on the Monitor. There is concern over the unintended consequences such vague language may have on civil society's advocacy activities. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties’ Liam Herrick also commented on the language in the Act, saying that it could be used to curtail the "legitimate role of civil society" and that it could "be interpreted as curtailing legitimate human rights advocacy".

Amnesty International Ireland and Education Equality were recently caught under a strict interpretation of the Electoral Law in regards to donations received for what the authorities perceived as having a "political purpose". Amnesty has challenged the order to return the money, and in a statement, Amnesty's Colm O'Gorman declared that:

"Ireland has, perhaps unintentionally, found itself among a group of countries who are cracking down on civil society groups".

In a positive development, the latest survey by Edelman Trust Barometer shows a 12 percent increase in the credibility of NGO representatives in the eyes of the Irish public compared to the findings in their 2017 report (see slide 17 in the presentation above). According to the survey, NGOs are recognised as trustworthy institutions on issues such as revealing abuses of power, preventing discrimination and educating the public on important issues. Also, traditional media are enjoying more public trust despite growing concerns over the proliferation of fake news and disinformation.

Peaceful Assembly

On 28th January 2018, the Irish government announced that by the end of May 2018 a referendum on reforming the Irish anti-abortion laws will be held. The referendum will allow citizens to choose whether or not to repeal the eighth amendment of the constitution that pertains to abortion. The government's decision to call a referendum on the issue follows a long process which saw political parties highly divided on the matter and sparked several pro-choice marches on the streets of many cities and towns across the country. 

In the autumn of 2016, the Citizens’ Assembly was established to discuss sensitive issues in Irish politics, abortion being one on which it provided recommendations to the Irish parliament. Over a year later, in December 2017 parliament voted in favour of similar recommendations as were made by the Assembly. The government's decision to move ahead with a referendum to appeal the ban on abortion has been heralded as a victory for protest movements. Leaders of the 'Repeal the 8th' movement welcomed how the government had moderated its anti-abortion tones as a result of the pro-choice mass mobilisations throughout the country.

The government also decided to hold the referendum before the end of May 2018 to ensure that younger Irish voters and students will be able to have a say. Student movements played an important role in the debate and students gathered in front of the parliament buildings as the government was taking deciding on the referendum. A student movement member - Ailbhe Smyth - commented, saying that:

"Come June and the broad mass of Irish students are on their way to other parts of the world such as the United States to work over the summer to pay for their studies. We have told the government it makes sense to hold the referendum in May as the students will still be in Ireland...The Union of Students of Ireland, along with ourselves, have been lobbying for a May vote and we hope – we think – the government has listened".

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.

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