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Dublin: 16 °C Tuesday 23 April, 2019
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I'm not a AAA fan but we shouldn't be able to restrict funding because we don’t like the look of them

To restrict the fundraising ability because some members might theoretically commit public order offences is a disturbing development, writes Donal O’Keeffe.

Donal O'Keeffe

I CANNOT ABIDE the Anti-Austerity Alliance.

I think they are populist opportunists offering nothing but easy rage and the pie-in-the-sky nonsense that if you vote for us, everything will be paid for by somebody else – anybody else – but just not by you.

Apparently it can all be taken care of by taxing The Rich. Of course, who The Rich actually are is often something of a problem for Ireland’s far left.

Personally, what I think is rich is that Ireland is blessed with the only socialists on the planet to oppose property tax. Still, though, populism is hardly new in Irish politics and – to me – the AAA’s cynicism would be political business as usual if not for their unbearable sanctimony.

So no, I’m not a fan.

Last month, Dublin District Court Judge Michael Coghlan upheld the decision of Divisional Chief Superintendent Orla McPartlin to deny the Anti-Austerity Alliance a permit for house-to-house and street collection on the grounds that she believed the money could be used to encourage unlawful acts.

The Chief Super felt – and Judge Coghlan found this “fair and reasonable” – that “the proceeds of the collection or part of the proceeds could be used in a manner to encourage directly or indirectly the commission of unlawful acts”.

Those “unlawful acts” are, presumably, street protests against the uberfiasco that is Irish Water. I abhor the abusive behaviour of some water protesters and – to me – the ultimate prize for some seems to be to provoke some hard-pressed and underpaid garda into retaliatory action.

I worry that the AAA’s politicisation of rage could result in serious injury or worse, but for all of that, I think we are in very dangerous territory indeed if the gardai can decide to restrict the funding ability of any political movement because that movement’s street protests could hypothetically result in a public order incident.

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In upholding Chief Superintendent McPartlin’s decision, Judge Coghlan said the AAA has other means to raise funds and described the AAA’s door-to-door collection as “nothing short of a coercion”.

Personally, I feel the same way about street collections and I’d be delighted if I could walk to the shops without being smilingly intimidated out of €2 every second step. And I have religious friends who feel similarly about church gate collections.

Imagine, though, what would happen if gardaí stopped issuing collection permits to cash-strapped schools, sports clubs and – crucially – the myriad charities which are holding Irish society together with spit and baling twine because the State has outsourced to them so many vital services.

As to other means of collecting funds, the AAA is not, to my knowledge, getting much in the way of corporate funding.

The AAA is not, to my knowledge, well-in enough with the Catholic Church to get too many church gate collections. The AAA is not, to my knowledge, affiliated with any large unions. The AAA is not, to my knowledge, doing $500 a plate fundraisers in New York or £100 dinners in London.

The AAA is, however, dependent upon funds raised at grassroots level. For gardaí to restrict the fundraising ability of the AAA because some members might theoretically commit public order offences seems to me a disturbing development and one with profound implications for our democracy.

By the logic of restricting the funding ability of a political party because of what they or their supporters might conceivably do, Sinn Féin could conceivably find itself facing garda concerns linking it to a violent IRA past, though of course Sinn Féin has long since vocally distanced itself from any connection with the IRA. (For some of us, the jury is still out as to how far they have or haven’t travelled from the violent past.)

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The Fianna Fáil church gate collection is obviously out too as there’s a chance the Soldiers of Density may again – eventually – get their hands on the levers of power by telling us exactly what we want to hear and continuing to do so until we all end up back in the poorhouse.

Had I the power, I would – as a priority – deny the fund raising of Fine Gael on the grounds that it will, if re-elected, doubtlessly continue the ongoing pauper cull which has resulted in the working poor being fed in soup kitchens.

And – while I was at it – I would also deny fundraising of the Labour Party on the grounds there’s not much point in spouting about having a conscience if you can switch that conscience off the first time the Blueshirts offer you the leather seat of a ministerial car and the last chance of a pension top-up.

I think the AAA are pious and calculating cynics who profit from the anger and despair of those on the wrong side of our two-tier society but the truth is, none of that matters at all if we live in a country where the police can decide whether and which political parties can be publicly-funded by door to door collections.

I cannot abide the Anti-Austerity Alliance. Feeling that way is allowed in a democracy but we’re in big trouble if we can restrict the ability of a political party to fundraise just because we don’t like the look of them.

Donal O’Keeffe is a writer, artist and columnist for TheJournal.ie. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Read: Anti Austerity Alliance to “strongly consider” constitutional action against collections ban>

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