WILLIAM MURPHY / flickr 

As Friday’s referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland approaches, attention has turned to the funding behind the Yes campaign.

A petition has been launched which says that “this push for same-sex marriage in Ireland has not at all been a ‘home-grown’ phenomenon, but, rather, a carefully-orchestrated and massively well-funded assault on the natural family, coming from private American funding”.

In most countries funding local politics with overseas money would be as popular with voters as barbecuing puppydogs at a school fair. But not, apparently, in Ireland.

A charity founded by Irish-American businessman Chuck FeeneyAtlantic Philanthropies, cheerfully acknowledges that it has poured about US$28 million over the past 13 years into strategic LGBT campaigns in Ireland.

A columnist for the Irish Times, Breda O’Brien, was seething with rage this week at the thought of American dollars buying Irish votes:

“This is not Atlantic Philanthropies funding a hospital or school. This is foreign money being systematically invested to change public opinion, to deliver seamlessly a Yes in a referendum that has enormous consequences for family law for generations. All the while soothing us by spinning it as just ‘seventeen little words’. Can American money buy an Irish referendum? Let’s wait and see.”

What has Atlantic Philanthropies achieved? Quite a lot. Even Friday’s referendum, it turns out, has its fingerprints all over it. Another columnist, Bruce Arnold, says, “In my opinion, The Atlantic Philanthropies has bought this referendum.”

Atlantic has funded four influential organisations: the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), Marriage Equality, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), and LGBT Diversity. Its report on a decade of funding claims credit for LGBT political victories:

“GLEN had extensive lobbying and public policy experience but their multi-year grant from Atlantic enabled them to ramp up their work into a full-time highly professionalized lobbying machine. It works ‘inside’ the machinery of government where it uses a ‘principled pragmatist’ model in which it consolidates support, wins over the doubtful and pacifies those who are opposed.”

Most Irish voters are unaware that foreign money is being used to boost the Yes campaign. As Breda O’Brien says, “Groupthink has been exalted to an Irish sacrament. While journalists were targeting tiny bootstrap conservative organisations and accusing them of being American-funded, GLEN, the most successful lobby group in Irish history, was swimming in greenbacks.”   

She didn’t need investigative journalists to reach this conclusion. The funded groups themselves acknowledge it (see the video above). 

The director of GLEN, Brian Sheehan, admits that Atlantic’s money was critical in lobbying politicians:

“Atlantic’s commitment to GLEN allowed GLEN to follow its strategy of building a majority from a minority and delivering transformative change for lesbian and gay people in Ireland. We did that by engaging really good professionals, by building very strong relationships with politicians, with TDs, with senators, with senior decision-makers in departments all across a whole range of areas, and enabling the to deliver on change for lesbian and gay people.”

Broden Giambrone, director of TENI, the transgender group, admits that Atlantic’s money gave it organisational clout:

“Atlantic’s multi-year commitment allows for TENI to employ core staff, which was unprecedented in the trans community.”

Marriage Equality Chairwoman Gráinne Healy admits that Atlantic’s support was vital for political change in Ireland:

“The Atlantic support … has been a support for the vision of marriage equality. In some ways, we’ve done two things: we have unleashed that potential and that passion that the supporters of marriage equality have, but more than that we’ve been able to channel it into political change.”

“Money can’t buy me love,” sang the Beatles. Atlantic Philanthropies has bet $28 million that they were wrong.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 

Michael Cook

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet