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Confusion and contradictions mount as Sinn Féin tries to explain its financial declarations

Weeks after it took moral high ground with Paschal Donohoe, SF’s organisations North and South are implicated over spending declarations that don’t add up

When Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe was in the dock for his failure to properly register in his election spending declarations assistance received putting up posters from a businessman supporter, it was Sinn Féin that led the charge against him.

“Farcical!” said Pearse Doherty, the party’s finance spokesman. “His story lies in tatters... stretches credibility... concocted narrative,” he thundered. “What we need is accountability.”

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald was not to be outdone, as she detected the “stench of cronyism and favours for insiders”, she told the Dáil. Donohoe had engaged in an “exercise in concealment and cover-up from start to finish”.

“The theme of this controversy is the minister’s ever-changing story, the muddying of waters, the ducking, the diving to evade accountability,” she told the Dáil.


But now it is Sinn Féin that faces questions about its spending declarations made to the Standards in Public Office Commission. Sipo is investigating a series of apparent mistakes, anomalies and contradictions in the Sinn Féin accounts and election spending declarations submitted by the party to the watchdog in recent years.

The issues with the Sinn Féin accounts have been the subject of repeated complaints to Sipo over the past 18 months. If upheld, the complaints could require the party to submit revised accounts and spending declarations to the body, an outcome that would be deeply embarrassing for Sinn Féin, given its pursuit of Donohoe.

In response to detailed questions submitted in recent weeks, Sinn Féin supplied a number of responses. However, some of the answers did not address the specific issues raised, or were confusing.

Sipo complaints

The issues raised in the Sipo complaints include:

- The election spending returns lodged by Sinn Féin with Sipo show total expenditure of €262,000 by the party at national level for the European elections in 2019. But the audited accounts for that year show spending of just €45,000. It is understood there was correspondence between the party and Sipo which suggested that the €45,000 figure was net of an expenses reimbursement of €114,000 given to parties who achieve a certain level of votes. However, this still leaves a difference of more than €100,000 between declared spending in election returns and audited accounts.

In response, Sinn Féin said that the figure used in its spending declaration for the European elections also includes spending by the party’s candidates in the local election also held in 2019. There is no explanation for why the party did this, which would appear to breach the rules about election spending declarations, possibly in a number of ways.

- The 2016 accounts show spending on the general election of €313,000, with an additional €86,000 spent in 2015. But the electoral spending returns to Sipo for 2016 show just €76,000 in electoral spending.

In response, the party said: “The €313,000 figure which you refer to is recorded in our Annual Accounts and includes our election spend for the 2016 general election and also includes substantial spending on political campaigns such as the 1916 centenary events.”

Sinn Féin did not explain how it could have done most of its election spending outside the period of the actual election campaign – an explanation which seems to defy logic

But this explanation is contradicted directly by the notes to the Sinn Féin accounts, which break out the expenditure under separate headings. The notes state clearly that spending on the general election was €313,000, and lists zero expenditure for the “1916 campaign”, on which it spent €54,000 the previous year.

The party also said: “In relation to the electoral spending returns, the Annual Accounts reflect election expenditure both in the election period and outside of the election period, whereas the National Agent Election Expenses Statement only reflects expenditure in the election period and in one particular year.”

But if this is true, Sinn Féin did not explain how it could have done most of its election spending outside the period of the actual election campaign – an explanation which seems to defy logic.

- In listing its debtors in the 2020 and 2021 accounts, the party lists amounts of €240,000 for each year. This represents the amount outstanding at the end of the year for Exchequer funding due for the final quarter and paid in the first quarter of the following year. It is an identical figure for the years 2017-19. Sinn Féin’s funding was increased after its successful 2020 election result, so the quarterly figure due at the end of the year should have been different.

In response, the party acknowledged that there was a “typo” but said that the “accounts do not change.” It said: “In effect some of the Exchequer funding due at year end was included in prepayments rather than shown separately under its own heading.” There is no reason given as to why this approach was taken and why money received should have been treated in a different way to previously.

- There are a number of discrepancies between the accounts lodged with Sipo for the “26 county” organisation and the “Six County” accounts lodged with the UK Electoral Commission. In 2015, there is a transfer of just under €28,000 from the northern party to the southern party in the accounts lodged with Sipo. But there is no entry in the northern accounts for this.

In 2017, the Sipo accounts show €165,000 was transferred to the northern entity from the southern headquarters. But the northern accounts show a “head office contribution” of only £112,000 – significantly less than even the worst sterling rate at the time. In 2019, the northern accounts show £27,000 sterling transferred to the South – but there is no entry in the Sipo accounts for the money coming from the North. In 2021, the Sipo accounts show €124,000 being transferred North. But the northern accounts show receipt of just £53,000 sterling.

The party insisted that it is compliant with all the reporting requirements North and South. “In this instance, the Electoral Commission and Sipo require spending to be identified under different account headings.” But this does not explain the discrepancy in the figures. The party also explained: “The funding received by the party in the North can be identified under different headings; eg ‘head office contribution’, ‘membership and affiliation’, ‘sundry income’ due to different reporting requirements.”

But both jurisdictions apply the same financial reporting standards and there is no obvious reason why the party should, for example, separate some of the Southern funding, putting some of it as “sundry income” and some of it as “head office contribution”.

Independent accountant

Many of the issues identified in the Sinn Féin accounts and electoral spending declarations have been the subject of complaints to Sipo by its political rivals. A Fine Gael activist who is also a financial expert has conducted a detailed examination of the filings and his findings form the basis for many of the complaints. Such an examination would naturally be regarded as partisan by Sinn Féin.

However, The Irish Times also asked a senior independent chartered accountant to review the complaints. The accountant’s view was that some of the anomalies and contradictions that were identified in the audited accounts were minor in nature and likely to be the result of error.

The party circumvented a ban on large donations, and on foreign funding of parties in the Republic, by channelling the money to the northern offices of Sinn Féin

However, the contradictions between the accounts and the election declarations appear more substantial in nature and may require the amendment of the statutory filings. Furthermore, Sinn Féin’s explanations for the issues arising do not explain the anomalies and inconsistencies. It is not known if Sinn Féin has issued the same explanations to Sipo. As is customary, Sipo declined to comment in response to questions from The Irish Times.

The independent accountant also observed that the latest published accounts for the Northern Ireland section of the party show that its costs are far outstripping its income from State funding or conventional donations, and the party seems to have been kept afloat by the donations from the estate of William Hampton, an eccentric Englishman who left most of his estate to the party in his will. Although Mr Hampton lived for much of his life in a camper van, he inherited large sums from his father and Sinn Féin is now understood to have received more than £3 million sterling from the estate of Mr Hampton.

But the Hampton bequest is also the subject of complaints to Sipo, it is understood. Although Mr Hampton’s will stipulated that almost all of his assets were to benefit “the political party in the Republic of Ireland known at this time as Sinn Féin”, the party circumvented a ban on large donations, and on foreign funding of parties in the Republic, by channelling the money to the Northern offices of Sinn Féin. It insists that none of the Hampton money has been used in the South.

But however large the bequest, it is necessarily finite. And without the resource of the Hampton donations into the future, the accounts suggest that the Northern party is likely to be dependent on the Southern party for financial support to enable it to function.

Asked about this aspect of the accounts, a Sinn Féin spokesman said: “Sinn Féin plans for future financial demands and will allocate its resources accordingly.”