What Exactly Is the Iona Institute?

 Posted by on June 2, 2013  Add comments
Jun 022013

The Iona Institute promotes the place of marriage and religion in society. We defend the continued existence of publicly-funded denominational schools. We also promote freedom of conscience and religion.

You might have noticed in recent years that our national broadcaster, RTÉ, very often invites a speaker for the self-styled Iona Institute on chat shows, whenever the topic is something that the Catholic church might have a view on.  Frequently, a member of the Iona Institute is invited to comment on current topics, such as the recent RTÉ documentary on abuse in creches.  Indeed, not too long ago, on a morning radio show, RTÉ had two members of the Iona Institute out of the four participants.


It’s not clear why a private lobby group is given so much access to the publicly-funded airwaves, but it seems that there are those in RTÉ management who believe such a facility should be afforded, for reasons best known to themselves.

Titles count for a lot in Ireland, a country where bluff and bluster can go a long way, and the Iona Institute is a most impressive-sounding name, carrying overtones of saintliness combined with the suggestion of profound learning.

The word Institute evokes a place where world-renowned scholars convene to debate the great issues in a spirit of open-mindedness and to conduct world-standard research, but if you thought that about the Iona Institute, you’d be wrong.

This being Ireland, we have no controls over what words people use to describe the companies they set up, by contrast with, for instance, the UK, where they’re very fussy indeed about who can and cannot describe themselves as an Institute.  The guidance page at Companies House defines sensitive words and expressions as those which could, among other things, suggest business pre-eminence, a particular status, or a specific function.

They even publish a list of sensitive words, including Institute.  Institutes, they say, are organisations that typically undertake research at the highest level or are professional bodies of the highest standing.

Since Iona isn’t a professional body, the only other criterion it might possibly meet would be research at the highest level, but after its disastrously misconceived submission to the Constitutional Convention, I think we can safely discount that too.

Iona is simply a pressure group funded from sources undisclosed.

It has an address at 23 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, not far from a real Institute: the RIAI.  It has a board of directors and it has two staff, although its most recently available details show only one staff member, and in recent times, none at all.  It also has four people with the nebulous title of Patron, which I suspect was chosen for its pomposity rather than its accuracy, two of whom frequently appear on RTÉ chat shows where presenters are not scrupulous about explaining their association with the  pressure group.

I thought it might be useful to explore the structure of the lobby group, perhaps with a view to provoking further discussion on the reasons why a privately-funded assortment of individuals might be so favoured by our publicly-funded broadcaster.

To start with, I thought it might be helpful to list the directors and staff, past and present, where information on them is available.  My sources are principally Iona’s own website and Duedil which is an extremely useful tool for looking up details of companies registered in Ireland or the UK.

David Quinn is the public face of the lobby group.  He has views on everything from same-sex marriage to childcare.  For all we know, he might also have Catholic views on the weather, on ballistics and on the odd probity of tricycles, but in any case he seems to have unlimited access to RTÉ.  Contrary to popular belief, though, he didn’t set up the lobby group.  Indeed, he appears to be no more than a paid employee.

There’s also Tom O’Gorman, employed as a researcher.  He’s described as a former journalist with The Voice Today, but I have no information on him or on that elusive organ.  I’m sure he’s a thoroughly nice chap.

[Update: Tom O’Gorman died prematurely six months after publication of this article.]

The four “patrons” are as follows:

  • Patricia Casey, a psychiatrist.
  • Breda O’Brien, a teacher.
  • James Sheehan, a surgeon, and co-owner of several hugely-profitable private hospitals, including the Blackrock Clinic.
  • Vincent Twomey, a priest.

According to company records, Lolek Limited (trading as The Iona Institute) was founded in 2006 by Andrew O’Connell (29) and Susan Hegarty (30).  O’Connell is the PR man for the Presentation Brothers and Hegarty lectures at the Catholic St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, a training school for primary teachers.  Lolek, incidentally, is the Polish diminutive of Karol, as in Karol Wojtyla, otherwise known as Pope John Paul II.  It has had eleven directors since its foundation, three of whom are retired, including both its founders.  Another two, for some reason, are not mentioned in the list of directors on the Iona website.

Name Age Background Comment Other relevant directorships
Sean Ascough 46 Engineer
  • The New Evangelisation Trust
  • Clonmacnois Publishing Limited
  • Silverstream Priory
Maeve Kelleher 48 Described on Iona website as a stay-at-home mother Director of 13 property companies
Patrick Kenny 38 Marketing lecturer
John Reid 54 Solicitor.President of Legatus, Dublin chapterKnight of the Holy Sepulchre.
Tom Ascough 42 Engineer
  • Spirit Radio Limited
  • Clonmacnois Publishing Limited
John Murray 49 Lecturer at Mater Dei Institute, a religious college.
Mark Hamilton 57 Principal of Rockbrook Park, a private school founded by Opus Dei members which retains close links to that organisation including an Opus Dei chaplain. Not mentioned on Iona website
Maria Steen(previously known as Maria Davin) 37 Barrister.  Architect. Not mentioned on Iona website
Andrew O’ConnellFounder 35 PR man for the Presentation Brothers Retired from directorship.
Brendan Purcell 71 Priest Retired from directorship.
Susan HegartyFounder 36 Geography lecturer Retired from directorship.

Stay-at-home mother Maeve Kelleher shares the boards of some companies with Garrett Kelleher, a property developer and owner of St Patrick’s Athletic football club.   These are Baynall Properties Limited, Cawston Limited, Mancar Limited, Mandala Limited, Saffia Limited, Cwd Properties Limited, Shelbourne Development Limited and Shelbourne Properties Limited.

Garrett Kelleher is a former chairman of Legatus in Ireland.  Legatus is an international association of Catholic businessmen set up by Irish-American Tom Monaghan, a prominent Opus Dei member and founder of Domino’s Pizza.

Here’s how they describe themselves:

The only organization in the world designed exclusively for top-ranking Catholic business leaders and their spouses. [My emphasis]. In a dynamic way, Legatus brings together the three key areas of a Catholic business leader’s life – Faith, Family and Business – connecting two powerful realities, the challenge of top-tier business leadership and a religious tradition second to none.

Legatus, the Latin word for ambassador, exists to help you become an “ambassador for Christ” (2Cor 5:20) and help you meet the challenges of balancing the responsibilities of faith, family, business and community. Since 1987 Legatus has been bringing together Catholic business leaders and their spouses in a unique format that fosters spiritual growth, formation and commitment.

The organization offers a unique support network of like-minded Catholics who influence the world marketplace and have the ability to practice and infuse their faith in the daily lives and workplaces of their family, friends, colleagues and employees.

The criteria for membership are set out here.

Executive Membership Criteria.  Primary membership for the top ranking Catholic in a business


Division Head Membership Criteria  The top ranking Catholic in a qualifying division or subsidiary.

Financial Services
1) Title
Chairman, President, CEO, Owner, Managing Director, Managing Partner, Publisher, Executive Vice President
Same Titles
2) Personnel
30 employees
10 employees and $1M annual payroll
10 employees
3) Volume/Value
$5 Million
$10M Net Value
$100 Million (assets


David Quinn attends Legatus celbration

David Quinn attends Legatus Ireland chartering Mass

Garrett Kelleher also sits on the board of regents of Ave Maria University in Florida (“Excellent.  Affordable.  Catholic”), founded by the ubiquitous pizza man, Tom Monaghan in a new town he called Ave Maria.

Jackie Ascough, a Christian fundamentalist from Texas also known as Jaclyn Dodgin, is the wife of Tom Ascough, and although not acknowledged to be involved with Iona, is routinely invited to speak on RTÉ programmes about social matters, again for reasons that are not entirely clear.  Why Irish broadcasters would consider the opinion of a foreign ideologue relevant has yet to be explained.  

As somebody with a degree in Radio/TV/Film from the University of North Texas, Jackie doesn’t seem to be highly qualified to practise as a fertility care practitioner, though her degree is augmented by something from the St. Joseph Healthcare Natural Family Planning Teacher Education Centre in St Paul Minnesota, a religiously-motivated organisation.

According to the Human Life International website, Jackie lectures for the Nurture Institute (another institute!) on the topic of psychosexual development of children 0-18.  However, the article omits to mention what qualifications she earned that equip her to do this important work.  There’s no listing of a company with this name in the Irish database.  The Nurture Institute, according to its website, is the “operational arm” of Education Resource Trust.  It seems to be in urgent need of new blood, with its youngest director at 66, followed by 68, 72, 73, 80, 81 and 83.  You’d have to wonder why people in this age range would be bothering themselves with the psychosexual development of anyone.

Jackie is deeply engaged with Human Life International and other worthy causes such as Pure in Heart, a group of young people answering the call of Our Lady of Medjugorje, with an address at, would you believe it, 23 Merrion Square.

Pure in heart is an International Catholic Movement of young adults who through prayer and friendship, strive together to learn, live and share the truth, beauty and meaning of human sexuality.

The institutes never end.  Jackie also works with the Nazareth Family Institute, founded, according to its website, by the Community of Nazareth, describing itself as a lay, charismatic, covenant community in south Co Dublin.  Its website suggests a connection with Spirit Radio.  One of its directors, Adrian Buckley (45), is also a director of Silverstream Priory, along with Sean Ascough and Patrick Kenny.

Jackie, like her husband Tom, is a director of Spirit Radio, and also writes for Alive! magazine, a  right-wing Catholic publication with, among other things, an anti-evolution stance.  Poor old Spirit Radio isn’t doing too well, judging by this printout of their financials, and apparently  their JNLR listership is even smaller than 4FM, but not to worry.  God will provide.

Jackie also wrote for the obscure Voice Today, as did Tom O’Gorman, the researcher for Iona mentioned above.

Incidentally, another Ascough, Deirdre, is married to a descendant of the Bourbon royal house, not that being a member of an ancient European aristocracy from the Holy Roman Empire is necessarily a bad thing.  It certainly reflected very well on Declan Ganley’s Libertas party, which was very fond of ancient aristocratic families.  Did I mention that Deirdre, Damien and Tom were big fans of Ganley?  I’m sure Damien Graf von Schönborn-Buchheim is a perfectly decent fellow, but if I happened to be in his position, I feel certain that I’d yearn for a return to the days when a Catholic aristocracy ruled over Europe, the wonderful days when Charlemagne, my ancestor, was still an all-powerful monarch.

Is that what the members of the Iona lobby group long for too?  A time when when powerful Catholic monarchs imposed certainty on the troublesome rabble without the need for messy democracy?

I don’t know, but the question is worth asking as you enjoy your pizza and wonder if you’ve just made a small contribution to the Iona Institute.

On a more whimsical note, those with a smattering of Latin will recognise Domino as the first-person present indicative form of dominare.  It means I dominate.

Alternatively, it might also be the ablative form of Dominus, therefore meaning, inter alia, from the Lord.

Just saying …

Anyway, enough levity.  The Iona Institute is no laughing matter, so let’s see what we have.

We’re looking at a fundamentalist billionaire;  an international cabal of wealthy businessmen; the oldest equestrian Papal order with origins in the Crusades; the secretive Opus Dei; an assortment of priests and minor academics; a highly vocal spin-doctor with almost unlimited access to the national broadcaster.

We’re looking at privileged people seeking to influence Irish law and seeking to impose their own personal religious views on people who do not share their beliefs, but as always in Ireland, the facts are murky.  The board of directors of Lolek Limited are a fairly drab bunch, and one would have to wonder whether they are, in fact, not simply sock puppets providing a vanguard for more powerful forces acting internationally.

However,  let’s not sink to the judgemental depths inhabited by the Iona people.  They are fully entitled to yearn for a time when Europe was ruled by unelected Catholic despots. We live in a democracy, after all.


Click on this for a better look at the links between the religious pressure groups in Ireland


Legatus Magazine




  109 Responses to “What Exactly Is the Iona Institute?”

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