Today, Ireland will hold a country-wide referendum on repealing a 1983 constitutional amendment that all but eliminates abortion rights in the predominantly Catholic country. Abortion is often a lightning rod issue around the world, and the argument gets particularly intense in the state with the most restrictive policies in the Western world.
In the background, though, sits another delicate question — whether foreigners, through funding of local advocacy campaigns, should have any influence over the abortion debate. When it comes to foreign donations, Ireland enforces a policy that is hardly open or unrestrictive.
The Standards in Public Office Commission, which is responsible for “supervising the disclosure of interests and compliance with tax clearance requirements, [and] the disclosure of donations and election expenditure,” has repeatedly demanded that campaigners seeking to overturn the existing laws return donations from foreign sources. Significantly, the groups in question, Abortion Rights Campaign and Amnesty International Ireland, received these funds from a private organization, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, not from a foreign government.
On the other side, anti-abortion efforts have similarly attracted American volunteers, who have arrived in Ireland to try to influence the outcome of the vote. Some of these activists have apparently deceived immigration officials about the true purpose of their travel, in order to skirt Dublin’s requirements that those seeking to participate in such political activities apply for a “volunteer visa.”
Given these Irish sensitivities to foreign meddling in its internal affairs, it is surprising that Ireland does not hesitate to fund political advocacy on highly inflammatory issues in other countries.
The case of Israel and the Palestinian Authority is instructive.
Ireland directly funds numerous Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs) whose entire focus is on changing Israeli government policy. In Ireland, the government would direct the return of such funding to the donors.
For example, the Irish government has provided generous budgets to a host of Israeli NGOs dedicated to challenging the government through public advocacy. Groups such as Yesh Din, Bimkom, and Gisha are partisan actors, committed to achieving political agendas. They are involved in the legislative process, supporting and opposing bills and government decisions on some of the most intensely debated issues. These Irish-backed organizations frequently petition local courts in an attempt to reverse government policy or constrain it, when appeals to the Israeli public and politicians fail to achieve the desired results.