Questions outstanding for Minister Donohoe and Fine Gael

19 January 2023
  • Labour advises Minister to publish revised SIPO return

Labour finance and public expenditure and reform spokesperson Ged Nash has urged Minister Donohoe to engage in a question and answer session in the Dáil today.

Deputy Nash said:

“The Minister told the Dáil this morning that he plans to make an additional statement to the Dáil ‘at the earliest opportunity’. He should be facilitated to do so today.

“I agree that the Minister is accountable to SIPO for his election returns. He will also understand that primarily he is accountable to the Dáil.

“It would also be helpful to the public’s understanding of this fast-moving situation if the Minister published his amended statement to SIPO.

“I said in the Dáil last night that the Minister is selling a narrative that suits himself.

“Following yesterday’s statement, we are none the wiser about the actual facts of the situation.

“The Minister must engage in a question and answer session in the Dáil to answer the plethora of questions that remain outstanding.

“First, it appears to us that there has been a breach of both the donation and the expenditure rules that everyone in the Dáil is bound by.

“The Act insists that no expenditure can be incurred at an election except by the agent or his or her nominee.

“The SIPO guidelines point out that it is an offence for a candidate, or anybody else ‘including, for example, a local branch of a political party’, to incur expenses or make payments in connection with a candidate’s campaign if this is not authorised by the agent.

“Was unauthorised expenditure incurred during the Minister’s 2016 election campaign and, if so, will he notify SIPO of this breach of the Act?

“Second, this service was provided by six company employees in a company van, but the Minister says it was provided by the shareholder.

“The distinction is relevant only because the law imposes a lower legal limit on corporate donations than on donations from individuals. This is the nett point.

“Let’s stop the pretence that this was not a corporate donation. One might think that there is an effort going on retrospectively to regularise an irregular situation.

“Third, the Minister says that two separate donations, one an individual donation of the services of six company employees and the second a corporate donation of the use of a company van, were not made to himself at all but were made to the Fine Gael constituency party in Dublin Central.

“Again, the distinction is significant, because there are higher limits for permissible donations to parties than for donations to candidates.

“But is there any reality to this? Constituency parties have no role in incurring expenditure at elections. It is candidates who incur expenditure, and it is the agents of candidates who account for that expenditure. It would be an offence for the constituency party to incur this expenditure. Isn’t trying to drag the constituency party into the picture just a red herring?

“The Minister must outline to the public just how he estimated the cost of this service. We know that the usual price charged for erecting and removing election posters in 2016 was €5 per poster, €3 up, €2 down. If 1,000 posters were involved, then the commercial value is closer to €5,000.

“The law and the guidelines are explicit on this. Where the price charged for a service is less than the usual commercial price, then the difference between the usual commercial price and the lower price is a political donation.

“Whether provided by an individual or by a company, the true value of this service seems to be way in excess of the donation limits.

“If that is so, then doesn’t it follow that what the Minister received was a prohibited donation, in excess of the donation limits? If so, then shouldn’t the Minister’s amended declaration also state that he received a prohibited donation the value of which, so far, he has not returned to the donor?

“Finally, if this expenditure was revalued at its commercial price, would the Minister be in breach of the candidate expenditure limits for the 2016 general election?

“We are being told that an individual and his company and its staff provided a service during the Minister’s election campaign, which ended up being free of charge to the Minister.

“The company’s owner then decided to pay the staff himself, and it was later decided that this payment of wages should be treated as a donation to the Fine Gael constituency party but not as a donation to the Minister, even though it’s his face on those posters.

“So far, there are more questions than answers. The Minster must engage in a question and answer session today.”

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