Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe has admitted to a breach in electoral rules by receiving a corporate donation in 2020 that exceeded the strict limits imposed by law.
In a significant correction to a statement he made to the Dáil last week outlining donations made by businessman Michael Stone to Fine Gael and to his election campaigns, Mr Donohoe confirmed to the Dáil on Tuesday that Mr Stone had also provided payments-in-kind to his 2020 election campaign, in the form of postering services.
On Tuesday morning, Mr Stone issued a statement in which he said he inadvertently misled Mr Donohoe in their conversations on the matter. He disclosed for the first time he personally paid for six people, working in three pairs, to help with postering in Mr Donohoe’s Dublin Central constituency on five dates, before and after polling day, in 2020. He said the total cost was €972. Mr Stone said his company Designer Group also supplied vans which had a commercial value of €434.20.
In confirming the payments in the Dáil later on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Donohoe also revealed that the value of the use of the vans supplied by Designer Group breached the strict €200 limits that apply to donations from corporations.
Politicians, officials, should be fined for failing to comply with disclosure obligations, ethics review finds
“I am now aware that an unauthorised corporate donation of €434.20 was unknowingly received by Fine Gael Dublin Central. This was in the form of the use of vehicles, the commercial value of which exceeded the maximum allowable donation limit of €200,” Mr Donohoe said.
“The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) have been notified of this breach and €234.20, the amount received in excess of the allowable limit, will be refunded to the Designer Group. An amendment will also be made this week to my election expenses return to the value of €1,256.20 for the work carried out and use of the vans up to polling day.”
Penalties for such breaches can include fines and imprisonment if a person or party, among other things, knowingly breached the rules.
Mr Donohoe told the Dáil that he and his team believed all the postering had been done on a voluntary basis in 2016 and 2022. He also said that the “vast majority” of posters erected in both elections had been erected by volunteers.
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However, pressed by the Opposition on how he calculated the value of the work done postering, Mr Donohoe conceded that he did not know how many posters had been erected by Mr Stone’s team in both elections.
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty accused Mr Donohoe of inventing a “cock-and-bull story” in his explanations, while the Labour Party’s Ged Nash said Mr Donohoe’s claim the donations were made to Fine Gael were a “fiction” and a “fantasy”. Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats said Mr Donohoe had made a “complete hames” of his returns, and argued that ignorance was no excuse.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Tuesday night said he was informed by Mr Donohoe over the weekend that Mr Stone would be making a statement on the matter before he spoke in the Dáil.
“I was aware of the sequence of events and what was going to happen at that point in time,” Mr Varadkar said.
“His decision to resign from the LDA (Land Development Agency) and the North East Inner City Taskforce, that wasn’t definite at that point, but I was broadly aware of what was what was going to happen.”
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Mr Varadkar said he had no contact with Mr Stone and “there was no co-ordination” with Mr Donohoe handling the matter. Mr Donohoe also called Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan at the weekend to inform them of what was going to happen, Mr Varadkar said.
Ministerial colleagues from all three Coalition parties on Tuesday night told The Irish Times they supported Mr Donohoe. Some, however, accepted privately that the episode has caused political damage to the embattled Minister for Public Expenditure.
All the main Opposition parties indicated last night they would continue to pursue the matter. Sinn Féin said the session had raised more questions than answers and it would decide how to proceed in the coming days.
Mr Nash said Mr Donohoe needed to publish the amended statements in full, while Paul Murphy of People Before Profit said he will examine the possibility of making a complaint to Sipo about Fine Gael.