Michael Stone, the businessman who paid for some election postering for Paschal Donohoe during the 2016 general election campaign, has said he inadvertently misled Mr Donohoe and did provide further help to the Minister during his run for the Dáil in 2020.
Ahead of Mr Donohoe again addressing the Dáil on the controversy over his election expenses this afternoon, Mr Stone issued a statement apologising for his error and saying he would resign from two unpaid State board positions he holds.
“I deeply regret any embarrassment that I caused Paschal for my mistaken recollection in relation to 2020 and for what I thought was modest help for a hardworking, honest politician,” he said in the statement issued by his company, the Designer Group.
Mr Stone said he did not know that the help he gave putting up posters needed to be accounted for in Mr Donohoe’s election expenses.
“I understand and fully accept that his team believed the support I provided to be voluntary,” he said.
He also said Mr Donohoe had asked him last December if he had given similar help in 2020. “I mistakenly believed that I had not and told him so. On Wednesday 18th January 2023 I again confirmed to him my mistaken recollection,” he said.
“When I heard later that day that the 2020 election had been raised in the Dáil, I had the matter rechecked and discovered that my recollection was wrong and that in fact similar assistance had been given with postering in the 2020 election. I immediately contacted Paschal and told him so and apologised for my mistake,” he said.
Mr Stone added the help given in 2020 was arranged through a member of the Fine Gael team in Dublin Central and that he had not discussed the matter with Mr Donohoe. He said he had personally paid for six people, working in three pairs, to help with postering on five dates before and after polling day. He said the total cost was €972. He said he also supplied vans which had a commercial value of €434.20.
Mr Donohoe made a personal statement to the Dáil last Wednesday regarding his failure to include a donation of services worth €1,057 by Mr Stone in his returns for the 2016 campaign. He apologised for the omission and said he was “very sorry that it has happened”. He then said on Thursday that he would be making a further statement on the issues raised about his election expenses. That is due to happen this afternoon.
A total of €917 was donated in 2016 by way of services by workers erecting the posters and a further €140 for the use of a van. He has since amended the statement to include the sums.
The Minister has said the use of the van comes under the €200 limit for a donation from a commercial company. The payment to the workers comes in below the limit of €1,000 for a donation from an individual (Mr Stone).
The rules in the Electoral Act stipulate that the value attributed to services must be equivalent to commercial rates. Opposition politicians have queried this and argued that the value should be much higher. If it were, however, it would breach the upper allowable limit.
The Minister said that as the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) was now examining the donation, he has recused himself from any policy area involving electoral or ethical policy. He said Minister for Finance Michael McGrath would assume responsibility for those areas during the process.