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Just what can election candidates use Dáil envelopes for?

The Standards in Public Office Commission dictates what they can and can’t be used for.

ALL OVER THE country election candidates are knocking on doors and distributing election literature with the intention of securing your vote on 26 February.

But regardless of the frantic nature of the campaign trail, candidates are still bound by strict rules about what they can and can’t use to get their their message out there.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) rules say that before the dissolution of the Dáil – which took place yesterday morning – TDs should not use Oireachtas envelopes for electoral purposes.

Once things are underway – as they are now – candidates can use Dáil Eireann envelopes, but must pay and register them as an election expense.

But in the last few days – and prior to the election being called – a number of politicians appear to have been using taxpayer-funded Oireachtas resources to seek support in their constituency.

Last week Independent TD John Halligan ran afoul of the rules after using pre-paid Oireachtas envelopes to send out invitations to his election campaign launch.

john halligan election

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Halligan explained that he had run out of normal envelopes and so had used around 30 of the Oireachtas ones to send invitations out.

He also said that he would repay the money for the envelopes.

In recent days this leaflet was distributed in a Dáil envelope by Renua hopeful Billy Timmins to a constituent in Wicklow:

IMG_0120 The letter sent out by Billy Timmins

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Timmins claimed the leaflet in question had been printed towards the end of last year, and that he had always “abided by the rules and regulations as laid down by the Standards in Public Office Commission”.

I have always distributed information throughout the constituency, sometimes by hand, sometimes by post, sometimes by email, much the same as every other TD. I have always abided by the rules and always will.

The leaflet – not making any direct reference to the election – would appear to fall within the rules.

This leaflet in a Dáil envelope from Fianna Fáil’s transport spokesperson Timmy Dooley was put through a door in Co Clare in the past few days:

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Similar to Timmins’s leaflet – Dooley’s also remains within the guidelines.

While the letter reflects on the political system over the “past few years”, it is not a direct appeal for the public’s backing.

This morning, Dooley told TheJournal.ie:

All of the information that I have sent out in Oireachtas envelopes is within the guidelines as set out by the Oireachtas and the Standards in Public Office Commission.

A letter sent out by Joe Carey TD in recent days has also been flagged.

Rather than issuing a broader message about the state of political system, Carey’s letter focuses on the issue of investment in Shannon Airport.

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The TD could not be reached for comment, but as the leaflet does not appeal for votes and as it was sent out (at the latest) on Tuesday, it falls within the rules.

So these three candidates would appear to have just about stayed within the rules. In response to the leaflets, SIPO reiterated a press statement on the matter that it released last year:

The Standards Commission has advised that, in advance of the dissolution of the Dáíl, TDs and Senators should not use Oireachtas envelopes (or other facilities) for electoral purposes in connection with the forthcoming general elections for Dail Éireann and Seanad Éireann, in respect of their own candidature, as these facilities have been provided to them arising out of their duties as public representatives. Neither should they provide these facilities to other candidates for electoral or any other purpose.

However, even if a member of the public does have something that breaks the guidelines pushed through their letterbox, they aren’t necessarily able to do anything about it.

Complaints in this area are taken by the Standards in Public Office Commission, who then pass it on to the clerk of the Dáil.

The clerk them decides whether or not the complaint should go before the Committee on Members’ Interests.

But this committee doesn’t currently exist as the Dáil has been dissolved for the election.

- additional reporting by Hugh O’Connell 

Read: If you’re not registered to vote you better get moving

Also: Alan Shatter told us all about his famous campaign balls

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