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Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe addressing the Dáil this evening. Houses of the Oireachtas
Paschal Donohoe

Paschal Donohoe apologises for 'clear mistake' but opposition parties query figures

Minister Paschal Donohoe said he understood work on hanging election posters to have been done on a ‘voluntary basis’.

PUBLIC EXPENDITURE MINISTER Paschal Donohoe has told the Dáil that it was a “clear mistake” on his part to fail to declare donations for hanging election posters in 2016.

Donohoe issued a ten minute statement to the Dáil this evening and said that he would not be commenting further as he didn’t want to have “any undue influence” on any process SIPO may undertake.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) is the ethics watchdog which sets out the standards of conduct for public officials and regulates political financing, including political donations and election expenses.

Opposition parties were also given an opportunity to issue a five minute statement in response, and they disputed the figures provided by Donohoe and hit out at his “reluctance to answer legitimate questions from the opposition in real time”.

2016 election campaign

Last weekend, it emerged that Donohoe had not declared a payment made by businessman Michael Stone to six people to hang up his election posters ahead of the 2016 general election.

Stone was appointed to the board of the Land Development Agency in 2019 by then Fine Gael housing minister Eoghan Murphy. 

However, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty claimed in the Dáil that Stone was “appointed by Fine Gael to the powerful Land Development Agency outside of the normal process”.

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, Donohoe said that Stone “is a man of the very highest standards”.

Donohoe also revealed that in 2020 and 2021, Stone “made a donation to Fine Gael by the purchase of superdraw tickets which was sold by me”.

“Superdraw” tickets are raffle tickets, with cash prizes available within constituencies. 

Donohoe said he understood the work on hanging up and taking down election campaign posters to have been done on a “voluntary basis”.

“Neither myself nor anyone involved in my campaign team paid the people concerned, nor was I, at that time, aware they had been paid,” said Donohoe.

“For that reason, no cost was attributed to this support on the election expense form submitted to SIPO, following that election,” he added.

However, Minister Donohoe said a “full review” that he has undertaken in recent weeks revealed that “the total payment to the people involved was €1100, of which approximately €917 pertained to the campaign period”.

A company van was also used, and while Donohoe said he was unaware of this in 2016, he told the Dáil that he was made “aware of an allegation in 2017 that a company vehicle had been used”.

He said he should have amended his election expense form “to the value of €140 to take account of the commercial value of a vehicle for the hours used” and added: “This was a clear mistake on my part and I acknowledge and apologise for that error.”

Under SIPO rules, the maximum donation that can be accepted by a TD at an election is €1,000.

Meanwhile, any corporate donor making a donation over €200 in value, whether in money or as a service, must register with SIPO as a corporate donor.

All donations received by a TD exceeding €600 must be disclosed on the Donation Statement.

Donohoe further added that on Sunday, his election expenses statement was amended to “reflect the additional spend for the 2016 campaign of €1,057, reflecting the equivalent commercial value of a vehicle and payment for labour”.

He also told the Dáil that the payment to these individuals and the value of the use of a company van “were a donation to Fine Gael Dublin Central, within the legal donation limits”.

Donohoe said he didn’t intentionally misinform SIPO and has taken steps to address the issue as fully as he can.

SIPO falls under the remit of Minister Donohoe and to “ensure full transparency and independence”, Donhoe has transferred responsibility for ethics legislation and SIPO to Finance Minister Michael McGrath.

Donohoe also pledged to “engage and cooperate fully with any process that they [SIPO] undertake in this matter”.

‘Reverse engineering’

Opposition parties were then given time to issue short statements in response.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty claimed that Minister Donohoe “had been caught and tried to cover this up when the allegations” were put to him in 2017.

The Sinn Féin TD accused Donohoe of trying to “concoct a story that doesn’t stack up” and claimed that he tried to “dodge the issue over the past fives years”.

“You said the individuals did the work for you over a number of nights so that the work was carried out outside of normal working hours,” said Doherty.

“We now know that that is not true, we now know that the work was carried out in broad daylight in the middle of the working day by men and hard hats with a company van,” he added.

Doherty also claimed that it was “laughable” for Donohoe to say that the donation was to the Fine Gael, as opposed to Donohoe himself.

Labour’s Ged Nash also claimed that “dragging the constituency party in to the picture is just a red herring”.

The Sinn Féin TD then accused Donohoe of trying to “reverse engineer the value of the political donation to make sure it was below the allowable amount”.

“How does your claim of €1,100 square with somebody who was contesting the same election in the same constituency, Mary Fitzpatrick, who had to pay nearly €5,000 euro to get her posters put up and taken down,” said Doherty.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall then hit out at Donohoe for “declining to answer questions in real time”.

“There’s nothing procedurally stopping you from answering questions from the opposition as we ask them,” said Shortall.

She added: “In reality, it seems that you just don’t want to; people can draw their own conclusions from that.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald also accussed Donohoe of “evasion” and a “refusal to answer straight questions”.

‘Deal of the century’

The Social Democrats co-leader also said it is “extremely difficult to understand why you  [Donohoe] did not rectify your returns in 2017, when you say you first became aware that a cost applied to the van that was used”.

Shortall also said it is “extraordinary” that Donohoe would have believed that “private individuals with no connection to Fine Gael were putting up posters for free”.

“Really minister, how naive could you have been?”, she added.

Shortall also queried the figures, saying: “You seem to have gotten the deal of the century.”

“The six individuals working in three teams of two were paid a grand total of €1,100 euro for their efforts over four days. That’s approximately €180 euro each.

“Is there an invoice or a pay slip that can be produced to demonstrate that this was the actual amount that was paid?”

Shortall added that “we see all the signs of reverse engineering of the figures in order to fit in with the spending and donations limits”.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy then told the Dáil that he “didn’t trust” Minister Donohoe and said he didn’t “believe the story that has been concocted after the fact in order to try to avoid as many rule breaches as he can”.

Minister Doherty was then afforded an opportunity to respond to the statements of opposition parties, but the Ceann Comhairle threatened to suspend the house due to interruptions.

“Not one question was answered there”, said one TD after Donohoe had finished responding the statement of the opposition parties.

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