Opposition join forces to press Paschal Donohoe on election expenses

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform expected to make Dáil statement today explaining 2016 expenses omission

All Opposition parties have joined in a rare show of unity to press Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe to explain discrepancies in his 2016 general election expenses.

In advance of the Dáil resuming on Wednesday following the Christmas recess, Sinn Féin whip Pádraig Mac Lochlainn contacted all the Opposition whips and got agreement on a joint letter to the Ceann Comhairle and the Dáil business committee.

In the letter, the parties requested that Mr Donohoe make a statement at the earliest possible opportunity and answer questions about omissions in a disclosure he made to the Standards in Public Office Commission. The Minister is expected to make a statement on the matter in the House on Wednesday evening.

Mr Donohoe has come under mounting pressure in recent days to make a Dáil statement setting out how he omitted to include in his expenses statement a sum of €1,057 which related to the use of a van and payment of six workers who erected election posters in his Dublin Central constituency seven years ago.


Mr Donohoe admitted at the weekend that he had not included those expenses in his statement to the political watchdog. He has since amended the statement to include them. The Minister has also recused himself from the electoral and ethical policy areas within his department until the Sipo process has concluded, which could take a significant period of time.

The Minister said a supporter of his, businessman Michael Stone, paid six workers a sum of €917 for erecting the posters in advance of polling day in 2016. He said the use of the van was donated by Mr Stone’s company, Designer Group, which came to €140. Both payments, he said, were under the allowable limits.

The Opposition is expected to focus on the sums paid to the workers and argue that they are below the “commercial value” of such work in the open market. They are expected to argue that the Electoral Acts are quite strict on this matter and that the sum attributed for the work should have been higher.

Mr Mac Lochlainn said Opposition parties want to “probe” Mr Donohoe’s explanation to see if the payments complied with the rules and the spending limits. It is also expected that Mr Donohoe’s relationship with Mr Stone will come under scrutiny.

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Labour leader Ivana Bacik said Mr Donohoe needed to explain how the amount of the donation was calculated and whether it equated to commercial value.

Cabinet members have continued to strongly defend Mr Donohoe, with Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney saying his Fine Gael colleague had corrected the record fully.

“I think he’s given a very detailed and credible statement in relation to that. And now I think it’s over to Sipo to do their work. And I think Pascal has done the right thing by recusing himself from any policy initiatives in relation to Sipo until that process includes,” he said.

Government parties will also highlight omissions by other parties on electoral returns. Minister of State Peter Burke said Sinn Féin had failed to include a €7,000 expense for an opinion poll in its 2020 election statement and did not amend the record until two years later.

“Sinn Féin are absolute hypocrites the way they respond to these issues,” he said.

Sinn Féin said the failure to include the €7,000 spend in its returns was an administrative error caused by remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Fine Gael are desperately trying to distract from the failure of Mr Donohoe to answer questions about a political donation to him; the explanation which – thus far – stretches all bounds of credibility,” a spokesman said.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times