by Conor Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 1
March 2022
Explainer
11:00

In Ireland, it’s progressives who have the real power

Working in the shadows, they are using NGOs to protect elite consensus
by Conor Fitzgerald
Credit: Getty

If one political innovation has defined Ireland’s move from its conservative past to its current status as the poster child for hyper-liberalisation, it’s been the rise of the NGO. But in the last month some cracks have appeared in the ways that NGOs protect and define elite consensus in the country.

Last month, the National Women’s Council of Ireland announced a “No Women Left Behind” rally outside the Irish parliament to take place on 5 March. The event will feature speakers from a number of parties but none from Government, who were deemed insufficiently active in tackling violence against women.

This led to protests from a number of female ministers, angered that they were being denied some of the sweet credibility and reputational enhancement they felt entitled to, having opened the government purse-strings for the organisation.

Senator Regina Doherty said the Women’s Council was failing to represent a wide range of views and, critically, noted that the organisation is almost entirely state-funded. And she is right: the NWCI’s latest annual report shows that it received over €800,000 in funding from various government bodies in 2020 versus less than €40,000 raised from its own members.

This is a typical arrangement in a country that has around 33,000 NGOs. The state funds them to the tune of around €5 billion every year, comprising 8% of the national budget. For context, the Irish health service, its largest single item of expenditure, got €21 billion in the last budget.

The organisations funded are almost exclusively socially progressive. The National Council of Women has historically been a relatively neutral organisation, but in recent years it has adopted increasingly progressive positions, such as signing a letter asking the Government to no-platform gender critical voices.

This is reflective of a broader socio-cultural drift to the Left in Ireland, which has seen the introduction of an immigration amnesty, gender self-ID, and hate speech laws. In each case the Government kept the right kind of NGOs close at hand in reaching their final position.

But no immigration-restrictionist, free-speech or gender-critical NGOs are recipients of an ounce of government largesse: the money all goes on the other side of the scale. The large number of Catholic or Catholic-aligned organisations funded by the state are either silent on these issues or actively on the progressive side.

Nowadays, NGOs are simply too powerful, too useful and too deeply embedded in the decision-making process to be removed. The current spat between Government and the National Women’s Council of Ireland is the incipient end of a happy marriage; it’s more akin to the mob boss who is offended when the Mayor in his pocket won’t consent to them being photographed together. “I pay for your lifestyle — but you won’t be seen with me?”

There has already been some rapprochement between the Government and the NWCI, and the Minister of Equality has quickly noted that a funding change was not on the agenda. In the end it seems the Government was able to reach a solution that worked for everyone, both the partisan NGOs and the politicians who make use of their activism.

It also shut down Benefacts, the public body that tracks and reports on NGO funding, with immediate effect. In future, finding out who is funding partisan activism in Ireland will be as opaque as the activist organisations themselves. Welcome to life in the Irish public square.

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Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
3 months ago

As a child in Ireland, fifty years ago, there was actually not a lot of difference between the classes. Most so-called “middle-class” people were just working types who’d made good, so there was a certain affinity within society. Today, Ireland is like every other western country, it’s second and third generation middle-class totally divorced from the people beneath them, yet, for some incomprehensible reason, feeling totally at liberty to speak for them and to articulate what they want. Whether they want it or not. Thus, you have the NGOs, all filled with the same university educated non-entities as everywhere else, literally dancing in the street (LITERALLY, not metaphorically) upon the passage of abortion, and screaming for the silencing of anyone who utters a word of dissent under the odious label of “hate speech”. Unfortunately, Ireland is a diseased country, and it’s not much comfort to know that the others are as bad.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
3 months ago

I liked the bars, so its not all diseased.

Last edited 3 months ago by Bret Larson
Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
3 months ago

A lot of these NGOs are providing social services that would otherwise be provided directly by the state, e.g. Barnardos, Rehab. But yes, some just exist as taxpayer-funded lobbying outfits… the government lobbying itself, basically. This is the phenomenon of “policy-laundering” that Mary Harrington of this parish has documented very well:

A little while back I discussed the emergence of this phenomenon over the twentieth century, as the state took over a growing body of welfare organisations once run by charities, and we swapped place-based charities for quangos. Such synthetic, professionalised ‘third sector’ bodies, I’ve suggested, functions as a kind of ‘policy laundering’, in which government employees pay supposedly independent charities to propose policies the government already wanted to enact, and which thus gain the imprimatur of ‘civil society demand’.

This is utterly corrosive to democracy.

Last edited 3 months ago by Lennon Ó Náraigh
Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
3 months ago

I’ve always voted in elections seeing it as a small way to not accept the status quo but now with these NGO’s dictating policies behind the scenes I wonder if my vote is worth anything st all.

P.S. Thank you for comparing the NGO spend with the health budget.

Last edited 3 months ago by Dermot O'Sullivan
Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
3 months ago

Don’t give up – In Wales I went to vote at the last (local) election determined to spoil my ballot paper with “none of the above”. It’s the first time I have not voted for the “least- evil”.of the offering. Until the main parties sort themselves out or I stumble over someone worth voting for I shall continue to do the same. I will continue this while telling those who dare knock on my door what I think of them in no uncertain terms. I’m reading “Cynical Theories” by Pluckrose and Lindsay on a ‘know your enemy’ basis. I found it hard going for the first several pages but I’m getting the hang of the first-read. Seems to be extracting-the-urine is a good place to start the fight-back. Onwards and Upwards!

Last edited 3 months ago by Doug Pingel
Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
3 months ago

I always vote for whoever is the furthest right. They haven’t a chance of winning, of course, but as protest votes go, it’s about as good as it gets.

Stephen Walshe
Stephen Walshe
3 months ago

Great article. This is the template being followed in many other countries (certainly Scotland). There is also a revolving door between the media, ministerial and Special Advisor roles, to remunerative CEO and Head of Advocacy roles in NGOs. The state also funds the media either directly through the license fee (which is allocated to the “independent” broadcast sector as well as to RTE), or through lavish communications budgets. Many television programs are directly funded by State bodies, and are effectively advertorials. As journalism jobs are poorly paid and insecure, they are really just entry points into political and NGO roles.

Last edited 3 months ago by Stephen Walshe
Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
3 months ago

Great piece

Billions of taxpayer money and philanthrocapital going to change policies and laws and the low IQ half witted goons who work in the sector consider themselves “activists”, making fools of themselves at government sponsored protests

NGOs are jobs prigrammes for half witted UCD Arts graduates

Peter LR
Peter LR
3 months ago

Thanks, Conor, that was very informative.
“The National Council of Women has historically been a relatively neutral organisation, but in recent years it has adopted increasingly progressive positions, such as signing a letter asking the Government to no-platform gender critical voices.” Is this NGO trying to erase women?

Last edited 3 months ago by Peter LR
Kathleen Stern
Kathleen Stern
3 months ago

It seems that the term ‘progressive’ is being massively misused now. Anything that contradicts our values and attitudes is being pushed as the ‘valiant,better way forward’ despite the majority not necessarily supporting it. They used to use that word in the college where I taught to try to bounce us into changes definitely not in our best interests and dubious at best.

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
3 months ago

I think this is why their push back against populist politicians is so fierce. They threaten this enormous sector. If you add in universities- which you really should (at least in part) – then it probably doubles in size. Their entire existence relies on taxpayer money – but they act as if they are untouchable. Under normal conditions no politician could defund them because of the noise they’d create. But a populist politician running against the ‘elites’ could and should. Could you see a Donald Trump figure saying ‘screw the entire lot of you – pay for your own programs.’ I could. In fact in the US it is already happening – they are refusing to give loans for certain degree programs in some states.

Last edited 3 months ago by Gunner Myrtle
JP Martin
JP Martin
3 months ago

A very interesting article. More attention must be paid to the role of NGOs in all countries. It is quite clear, for example, that Russian funding of German environmental pressure groups was instrumental in shaping that country’s disastrous energy policies.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 months ago
Reply to  JP Martin

And the UK’s.

Last edited 3 months ago by Colin Elliott
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago

It’ll be interesting when Sinn Fein are elected on both sides of the border to seek unification and have to suppress Protestant dissidents in the north, then watching NGOs tie themselves up in knots to support Sinn Féin’s medieval belief system based on religious bigotry and not human rights.

JP Martin
JP Martin
3 months ago

Strange. I made a very innocuous comment about foreign funding of NGOs and my comment was stuck in moderation. Now it has vanished. Not impressed by the moderation system.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
3 months ago
Reply to  JP Martin

I’ve read i another topic that the site had issues yesterday.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
3 months ago

It’s yet another example of a lack of courage: you might expect that from the powerless but from the poerful? This smacks of craven cowardice. But that’s hardly new. We have grown men and women, highly intelligent afraid of being ‘canceled’ by ignorant morons.
And all-powerful NATO afraid of backward Russia? Wouldn’t it have been a simple matter for Sweden, Finland and Georgia to threaten NATO membership if Russia invaded Ukraine? Of course they’re considering it now! Too late cowards! And/or to increase their military spending (and all existing NATO countries as well) if the invasion occurred? Theyre doing it now of course. Too late cowards!
And wouldn’t it have been simple for the UN to instruct every member country that borders Russia to mobilise on thier borders eg India, Pakistan, China etc. immediately an invasion occurred. They would at least force Russia to split its forces and give Ukraine a fighting chance! But no! Lily-livered sanctions instead. Pretend sanctions even! Cowards!
Trying to appease rabid tyrants is never hoing to work be they Russian dictators or mad bitches!

Last edited 3 months ago by Liam O'Mahony
Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

The UK isn’t increasing expenditure, and it’s policy to reduce the army to be even more of a token hasn’t been stopped.