Who shares 23 Merrion Square,the Tax-Free Tardis, with Lolek Limited, aka the Iona Institute?
Well, there’s that strange bunch, Pure in Heart, who go around the schools making kids feel guilty about sex. And then there’s the Religious Vocation Association, there’s Response, there’s the Vocations Association, there’s St. Joseph’s Young Priests Society and there’s Vocations Ireland. Lots of vocations.
What do they all have in common, apart from squeezing into one building? Well, they all enjoy tax exemption as charities.
And on what grounds did they earn this status?
Under Irish law, an organisation can get tax exemption if it engages in one of the following:
- Relief of poverty.
- Advancement of education.
- Advancement of religion.
- Other works of a charitable nature beneficial to the community.
If the organisation is a corporate body, as Lolek Limited is, it must be bound by a memorandum and articles of association. All of its money must go towards achieving the aims stated.
In Lolek’s case, the aims it stated in order to get tax-free status are as follows:
The advancement and promotion of the Christian religion, its social and moral values, and the doing of all such other things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment of that object.
If it spends money on anything else, it doesn’t qualify for tax exemption.
Now, you might say that the Iona prayer group is all about promoting religion, but in reality, you’d be mistaken. What they actually do is religiously-motivated political lobbying, which is quite a different thing.
For instance, when they opposed civil partnerships, it had nothing to do with advancing religion. And when they oppose same-sex marriage it has nothing to do with advancing religion. When they try to prevent people conceiving via IVF, it has not the slightest thing to do with advancing religion.
The Irish exchequer is subsidising a private lobby group by mistakenly treating it as a charity.
There is no tax-break in the Irish tax code for private companies trying to impose their personal religiously-driven prejudices on the population at large by seeking to influence the civil law.
There’s a big difference between advancing religion and acting as a mouthpiece articulating the political objectives of a certain ultra-conservative strand of Catholicism, and this is why I think Lolek Limited, trading as The Iona Institute, does not now qualify for tax relief, and never did. I think that, since its foundation in 2006, Lolek Ltd has never met the criteria for qualification as a charity.
It seems to me that Lolek Limited has received favourable tax treatment in error and should now be required to pay full tax on whatever income it has received since it was first registered as a charity by tax officials who failed to understand the difference between pushing a social agenda and working to advance religion.
Iona is not a charity. Iona is a political pressure group and it doesn’t deserve such preferential treatment at a time when the ordinary citizen is struggling under a severe tax burden.