Sinn Féin did not spare Paschal Donohoe in Dáil exchanges on his failure to declare the assistance he had received in putting up posters in 2016 and 2020 when he made his statement earlier this week.
“It is a cock-and-bull story,” thundered Pearse Doherty. “The Minister has been caught out time and again!”
The party has been rather more reticent on its own failures to declare spending accurately. It now has to make several revisions to the Standards In Public Office Commission (Sipo) declarations. “Administrative error,” murmur parity spokespeople. “Simple error.”
In fact, Sinn Féin made two more errors in its 2020 election expenses statement when it incorrectly listed sums in euro for spending charged in sterling, leading to an underdeclaration of €945.
Politicians, officials, should be fined for failing to comply with disclosure obligations, ethics review finds
The party previously had to change its declaration for the 2020 general election after it omitted spending on an opinion poll by British company Survation costing almost €7,000.
The party said the invoice was “accidentally omitted due to staff working remotely as a result of public-health restrictions”.
“When this came to our attention, the statement was immediately amended and the invoice sent to them [Sipo].”
The errors in Sinn Féin’s 2020 election expenses statement were brought to the party’s attention by The Irish Times.
Two entries under the “publicity” category in Sinn Féin’s return to Sipo related to work the party had carried out by businesses in Northern Ireland.
The first related to work done by Belfast-based company Offline Central on editing Sinn Féin’s party political broadcast for the election. The party recorded the spending as being €4,800. However, the invoice from the company shows the work was charged for in sterling at a rate of £4,800.
The second entry was for work carried out on television and radio material by Newtownards business HotPress Sound. Similarly in this instance the party declared the spending as being €800 when the invoice shows the work was charged £800 in sterling.
“This was an administrative error that should not have happened,” Sinn Féin said in a statement. “It will be corrected and returned to Sipo.”
The statement added: “Both invoices were paid by the party in the south, at the following rates – Offline Central: €5,601.25 and HotPress Sound: €943.96.”
Based on the these figures the errors amount to an underdeclaration of €945.21.
There was also an omission in Sinn Féin’s expenses statement for the 2019 European elections. Two of its candidates, Matt Carthy in Midlands North West and Lynn Boylan in Dublin, assigned all their campaign spending to the party nationally.
While spending on all individual items for both candidates was included in the national statement, the party did not report the total expenditure made on behalf of each candidate by the party, as required under Sipo rules. The sections were left blank.
While the third candidate, Liadh Ní Riada, filed a personal election expenses statement, the party nationally also made payments on behalf of her campaign. Her expenditure on the national statement is also itemised individually but, like her colleagues, the total expenditure is not reported.
The party said the omissions were a result of a simple error.
Meanwhile, it was reported on Thursday that Sinn Féin also failed to disclose expenses worth more than €2,000 for six events it held during the 2016 general election campaign.
A party spokesman said Sinn Féin held 23 press events during the 2016 general election campaign, with only six of these held at indoor venues.
“Their use should have been included in our election return seven years ago. We regret that they were not,” he said. “The total value of the hire of these venues was €2,160.70. All these invoices – bar one – were paid at the time. The remaining invoice has now been paid.”
The spokesman said the party’s election return would now be amended as appropriate and returned to Sipo.
He pointed out that the maximum amount permitted to be spent by Sinn Féin in 2016 was €229,000 at a national level.
“Even with the addition of these invoices, Sinn Féin’s election expenses were less than a third of this amount,” he said.