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Iona Institute

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Iona Institute

Iona Institute
Iona Institute logo
Motto "For Religion and Society"
Founder(s) David Quinn
Established January 2007 (2007-01)
Mission Promotion of religion and socially conservative values
Director David Quinn
Key people
  • Patricia Casey
  • Breda O'Brien
  • James Sheehan
  • Vincent Twomey
  • Ken Clarke
Location Dublin, Ireland
Address 23 Merrion Square, Dublin
Website .ie.ionainstitutewww

The Iona Institute is a socially conservative Catholic[1][2][3] advocacy group based in Ireland. Founded by David Quinn, a commentator on religious affairs, it was launched publicly in 2007. The psychiatrist Patricia Casey, journalist Breda O'Brien, Fr. Vincent Twomey, former Church of Ireland Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh, the Right Rev Ken Clarke, and Jimmy Sheehan, a co-founder of Blackrock Clinic, are amongst its patrons.[4][5]

Iona promotes conservative Christian values, opposes same-sex marriage (but supports limited civil partnerships) with broad-based religious freedom protections.[2][6] It posits that rising crime, family breakdown, drug abuse and other social problems are typical of a "weakened society" and that such a society will fail to recognise the importance of marriage and religion unless an evidence-based case was made.[7] Since its foundation the group has released a number of reports to this end.[8]

In an article in The Irish Times by Kathy Sheridan on same-sex marriage, the group was described as being "blessed with extremely high-profile members with priceless multimedia platforms" and "'very, very engaged' with politicians".[9]

The Iona Institute was incorporated in Ireland in August 2006 as a private limited company under the name Lolek Ltd.[10] Unlike in other jurisdictions (e.g., the U.K.), "institute" is not a protected term in Ireland.

Campaign issues


The Iona Institute promotes heterosexual marriage and opposes extending the institution of marriage to same-sex unions, favouring civil partnerships instead.[11] The organisation claims that children do best when raised by a mother and father, citing (among others) a study by Professor Douglas Allen et al. published in the journal "Demography" in 2012.[12] This position has been challenged by groups such as the American Psychological Association, whose stated position is: "... the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth".[13][14] The Iona Institute has been accused of misrepresenting the research which underpins its position opposing same-sex marriage.[13]

The group has been accused of homophobia because of its opposition to recognition of same-sex marriage by the Irish government.[15][16] The organisation has been criticised for an over-reliance on invalid interpretations of data to back their claims.[17]

In December 2012 the group released a video on YouTube arguing that marriage can only be between a man and a woman and that blocking gay couples from marriage was not discrimination. The video gained notoriety after the institute's YouTube account was temporarily suspended and its director, David Quinn, initially alleged censorship. The video was subsequently parodied by activists in favour of marriage equality.[18]

Breakdown claims

An Iona Institute report called "The Fragmenting Family" drew heavily on data from Census 2006 and said that between 1986 and 2006 marital breakdown in Ireland rose by 500%.[19] However, the report was criticised by Fergus Finlay because it used figures from the 1986 census (before divorce was legalised in Ireland),[7] and that the figures actually suggest that marriage breakdown had been slowing down since the 1990s.[7] A 2010 report by the ERSI confirms that "[t]he evidence suggests no significant upward shift in marital breakdown as a result of the advent of divorce in 1997".[20] According to an "Irish Independent" article, in 2004 Ireland had the lowest divorce rate in Europe with 7 divorces per 1,000 compared to the EU average of 21 per 1,000.[21]

Submission to the Constitutional Convention

In its submission to the Constitutional Convention, in opposition to same-sex marriage [22] the group cited a 2002 study conducted by an American NGO, Child Trends. In its submission, the organisation summarised the report stating that "Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage…". Issues were subsequently raised in the Irish Senate as to the accuracy of the report and a response by Carol Emig, President of Child Trends wrote to the Convention and stated that "This Child Trends brief summarizes research conducted prior to 2002, when neither same-sex parents nor adopted parents were identified in large national surveys. Therefore, no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the well-being of children raised by same-sex partners or adoptive parents".[23][24]


The Iona Institute’s first policy document, "Tax Individualisation: Time for a Critical Rethink", was published in 2007. Written by barrister John P Byrne, the document says that families where only one parent stayed at home were discriminated against by the current tax individualisation policy. The paper advocated an increase in the level of the Home Carer's Allowance.

In May 2011, the group hosted a conference entitled "Women, home and work: Towards a policy that’s fair to all families", which highlighted the social policies that it claims unfairly discriminate in favour of working women over mothers who wish to spend some or all of their working lives at home with their children.[25]

Denominational schools

The Iona Institute says it believes that the government should continue to fund faith-based schools. As of 2010, mainstream primary schools were over 90% Roman Catholic.[26] In March 2009, the organisation commissioned a survey by polling company Red C which showed that only 47% of the population wished to send their children to a Roman Catholic school.[27]

Religious freedom and discrimination against gays and atheists

In an April 2008 conference, the Iona Institute highlighted a posited move by the European Union, which would require Ireland to scrap Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 2000.[28] Section 37 provides an exemption for religious schools from the equality legislation and allows them to discriminate based on religion. This section has been opposed by the [28][29]

The group believes that employees should not be required to act against their Catholic beliefs by employers. For example, in April 2010, the group supported the stance taken by Dr Phil Boyle, a fertility doctor based in Galway, who will only provide fertility treatment to married couples because of his Catholic beliefs.[30]

Reception and impact

In an article in The Irish Times by Kathy Sheridan on same-sex marriage, the group was described as being "blessed with extremely high-profile members with priceless multimedia platforms" and "'very, very engaged' with politicians".[9]

In an interview in Hot Press magazine, comedian Graham Norton said "I'm actually glad ... the Iona Institute exists. The great thing about extremists is that they drag everyone towards the centre." [31]

RTÉ payment controversy

On 11 January 2014, the Iona Institute claimed it was defamed when accused of homophobia by the performer and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill in an interview on the RTE Saturday Night Show.[1][3][32] A payment of roughly €85,000 was made by RTÉ to the Iona Institute and John Waters as part of an out of court agreement. All the litigants from the Iona Institute rejected a right of reply in favour of the payment.[33] Breda O'Brien described a right of reply offer as "completely inadequate".[34] RTÉ's TV director said "Senior counsel was consulted and confirmed that the legal position was far from clear.".[35]

The payment caused a controversy, with the Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, and Senators David Norris and Ivana Bacik demanding the reasoning for the payment[32] and in the region of 2000 people attended a protest at the payment.[36] Senator Averil Power said seeking "to completely censor somebody else’s viewpoint by resorting to solicitors’ letters is ridiculous".[37] MEP Paul Murphy said RTÉ's actions were censorship, and further described it as a "real attack on the freedom of speech".[33][38] Senator Ronan Mullen said that the payments by RTÉ “were a welcome development in the cause of promoting a civil debate."[39]

In a Dáil discussion on the issue, TDs, John Lyons, Jerry Buttimer, Michael Colreavy, Clare Daly, Luke Flanagan, Mick Wallace and Catherine Murphy also criticised the payment.[40][41][42] The Index on Censorship commented on the incident, saying "If the Catholic right was more confident in its arguments, it wouldn't attempt to censor the other side".[1] The Taoiseach Enda Kenny said to Buttimer that he had no plans to make RTÉ "directly accountable" to the Dáil over the payments.[43]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Reidy, Padraig (17 January 2014). "Ireland: Legal threats from Catholic commentators put drag artist Panti in a twist".  
  2. ^ a b Tighe, Mark (2009-10-25). "Gay activists attack bill optout plan". The Sunday Times (London). Archived from the original on 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2010-08-12. 
  3. ^ a b Cormac, Murphy. "HSE to review case of woman who was denied an abortion". Herald. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  4. ^ "Personnel and Patrons". Iona Institute. Retrieved 12 January 2012. 
  5. ^ "Former Church of Ireland bishop becomes Iona Institute patron". The Irish Times. Retrieved 22 May 2014. 
  6. ^ 
  7. ^ a b c Finlay, Fergus (18 September 2007). "Broken marriages: the floodgates are a long way from bursting yet".  
  8. ^ The Benefits of Religious Practice
  9. ^ a b Sheridan, Kathy. [1] "How gay marriage went mainstream", The Irish Times, 14 July 2012.
  10. ^ "Lolek Limited". SoloCheck. Retrieved 11 February 2014. 
    • Senator David Norris commented on the issue: "David Norris and Paul Murphy raise homophobia in Irish and EU parliaments". 4 February 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ The study was reported in the article "Nontraditional Families and Childhood Progress Through School: A Comment on Rosenfeld" in the journal "Demography" on 18 November 2012. Iona's citation of this study is found on their website at: The journal article itself can be found at:
  13. ^ a b R. Grimes, David. "Strong religious convictions are no excuse for misrepresenting research".  
  14. ^ Committee on Lesbian, Gay,and Bisexual Concerns, Committee on Children,Youth,and Families and the Committee on Women in Psychology (2005). "Lesbian and Gay Parenting".  
  15. ^ Grainne Healy of Marriage Equality criticises Patricia Casey's argument against same-sex marriage
  16. ^ Letter by Christopher Robson ]
  17. ^ Noeline Blackwell; Liam Herrick; Mark Kelly (29 July 2008). "Attack on UN rights body just doesn't bear scrutiny".  
  18. ^ "Irish Catholic group in spotlight over censorship row".  
  19. ^ O'Brien, Carl (6 September 2007). "Marriage breakdown up 500% in last 20 years".  
  20. ^ Lunn, Pete; Fahey, Tony; Hannan, Carmel. "Family Figures: Family Dynamics and Family Types in Ireland, 1986-2006".  
  21. ^ Sweeney, Conor (13 May 2006). "Divorce rate here lower than the rest of Europe".  
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ 'Women and work policies unfair, conference told' Irish Times 27 May 2011, 'Irish women "sold childcare myth created by EU"' Irish Examiner, 27 May 2011
  26. ^ Mainstream National Primary Schools 2010-2011 School Year. Enrolment as on 30 September 2010, Statistic delivered by Department of Education and Skills website. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  27. ^ 'Parents demand right to pick schools for children,' Irish Independent, 25 March 2009
  28. ^ a b 'Church takes advice on equality finding', Irish Times, Saturday, 5 April 2008
  29. ^ "Employment Equality Act 1998, Equal Status Act 2000 - Questions and Answers".  
  30. ^ "Infertility treatment refusal led to inquiry," Irish Times, 15 April 2010
  31. ^ The Hot Press Newsdesk. "Graham Norton's verdict on RTE, Panti and homophobia". Hot Press magazine. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  32. ^ a b "RTE's 'The Saturday Night Show' to host debate on homophobia". 31 January 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  33. ^ a b Byrne, Brian (4 February 2014). "Comic Norton shows support for Panti in RTÉ payout row". Irish Independent. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  34. ^ "‘We only sought damages from RTE after they refused to apologise over claim of homophobia’". 3 February 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  35. ^
  36. ^ "Over 2,000 attend protest over 'silencing' of homophobia debate". RTÉ News. 2 February 2014. 
  37. ^ McGreevy, Ronan (2 February 2014). "RTÉ payout ‘damaging in the extreme’". The Irish Times. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  38. ^ "European Parliament backs anti-homophobia report". RTÉ News. 4 February 2014. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  39. ^ "‘Independent Senators differ on RTÉ payment to Iona Institute members’". Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  40. ^ "Emotional contributions to Dáil debate on RTÉ Iona payout". The Irish Times. 6 February. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  41. ^ "‘Where there is homophobia, it must be challenged’ – Dáil debates Pantigate". The journal. 6 February 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  42. ^ "Dáil questions over RTÉ €85,000 payout". RTÉ. 6 February 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  43. ^ McGreevy, Ronan (6 February 2014). "Taoiseach rules out making RTÉ accountable for Iona Institute payout". The Irish Times. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 

External links

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