The Standards In Public Office Commission (Sipo) is investigating a complaint that Sinn Féin failed to account for spending on its Abú election database in its election spending returns.
The complaint to the standards in public office watchdog was made against Sinn Féin by a Fine Gael activist 15 months ago when the existence of the database was first revealed, and the body has told the complainant that its investigations are ongoing.
Sipo told The Irish Times that it could not comment on an individual case, while Sinn Féin said it had received correspondence from and “looks forward to engaging” with Sipo on the issue.
Sinn Féin has previously repeatedly said that the Abú database – which was the subject of political controversy last year when its existence was reported – is used for and during election campaigns. However, there is no entry on the party’s election spending returns for any expenditure on the system.
Politicians, officials, should be fined for failing to comply with disclosure obligations, ethics review finds
The party said the database “was developed in-house by party staff and no additional running costs was incurred during the election period”. However, the party has also said previously that the database is hosted in Germany. There are no entries in its electoral spending returns for expenditure in Germany. Campaign spending rules require all parties and candidates to detail expenditure during the course of the campaign in returns made to Sipo afterwards.
[ Background: Sinn Féin feels heat on election spending ]
The database contains entries from the electoral register with canvass data added, the party has previously said, and contains entries for hundreds of thousands of voters.
Sinn Féin has also confirmed that it will seek to made several revisions to its election spending returns.
In recent weeks a controversy has raged surrounding a failure by the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe to account for spending on his behalf – in relation to election posters – by a friend and party donor. Mr Donohoe gave two Dáil statements on the issue, and was subject to fierce criticism by Opposition parties, especially Sinn Féin.
However, Sinn Féin has now admitted that it is seeking to correct a number of errors in its own election spending returns.
It previously acknowledged that it had failed to declare expenditure of €7,000 on an opinion poll taken during the 2020 general election campaign, as required by law. The party submitted the revised spending returns after the issue was brought to their attention by the Irish Times in December 2021.
Expense allowances, threats to politicians, home truths
It has also said that it will seek to revise again the spending return in relation to a number of campaign events which were not accounted for. The party also said it had paid one outstanding invoice from the 2016 election. It was one of a number of invoices which had not been declared as part of its election spending, which the party said it would now correct.
Now The Irish Times has established that the party made two further errors in its 2020 expenses statement, leading to an underdeclaration of €945. It did not convert expenses paid in sterling to their euro value, instead entering the same amount in euro on its spending declarations.
“This was an administrative error that should not have happened,” Sinn Féin said in a statement. “It will be corrected and returned to Sipo.”
In response to questions, the party also said it had made errors on the election spending declarations of its MEP candidates in 2019.
The party acknowledged the need to further amend its expenses statement and said it was a result of “simple error”.
[ Sinn Féin admits failing to declare expenses for six events held during 2016 election ]
On Friday, Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin reiterated this view, saying there was no “equivalence” between “sloppy administrative errors” by his party and Mr Donohoe’s actions and omissions.
There was “a world of difference” between the two issues, Sinn Féin’s housing spokesman said.
“We have made a number of errors, they have been brought to our attention, in some instances by the media and as soon as they have been brought to our attention we have rectified them immediately. That’s a world of difference for Paschal who failed to declare significant donations; was notified in 2017, did nothing about it; was notified in 2022, did nothing about it; came before the Dáil once, didn’t declare his full donations; and still has significant questions to answer,” Mr Ó Broin said.
On the Abú database, Mr Ó Broin said hosting it cost Sinn Féin €45 per month, which was a recurring charge. “Our understanding is because it is a recurring charge that would have to be paid whether there was an election or not - there is no requirement to record it as an election expense. But it is recorded and it is published in our annual accounts.”