The Charities Regulator has recently published guidance which should be considered by the Trustees and Directors of Irish registered charities before engaging in activities to promote a political cause.
Under the Charities Act 2009 (the "Act") a charitable organisation must promote a charitable purpose only. An exclusively political purpose is not a charitable purpose under the Act. A charity may however engage in activities to promote a political cause provided that the promotion of the political cause relates directly to the advancement of its charitable purpose and does not promote a political party or candidate.
The guidance provides helpful illustrations of what is and is not permissible activity on the promotion of political causes.
The Charities Regulator
The Charities Regulator is Ireland’s independent statutory regulator for charitable organisations. The Regulator has considerable statutory investigative powers, including a power to compel production of documents and to apply to the District Court for a warrant to enter and search premises.
The Regulator also has the power to impose sanctions for breach of obligations under the Act and the power to apply to the High Court for certain Orders, including to suspend or remove the trustees and other staff members.
Trustees, Directors and Officers take note
It is important for Trustees, Directors and Officers of Charities to be cognisant of their obligations under the Act, and any guidance issued by the Charities Regulator. As this recent guidance cautions, an existing registered Irish charity risks losing its charitable status where it promotes a political cause which does not directly advance its charitable purpose. They should also be aware of related issues under the Regulation of Lobbying legislation which is designed to provide information to the public about who is lobbying whom about what. If a charity is lobbying to directly advance its charitable purpose, then it must register with the Standards in Public Office Commission (Standards Commission) and make a return every four months.
It is therefore imperative that Trustees and Directors of registered Irish charities that are or may be considering engaging in the promotion of a political cause, fully consider the guidance. In particular, they should consider the intended activity as against the guidance, the constitution of the charity and their obligations under the Act. Furthermore, in the event of a breach of their obligations under the Act, Directors, Trustees and Officers risk sanctions being imposed against them, including their suspension or removal by Order of the High Court.