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Tánaiste questioned over Donohoe controversy: 'I’m going to wait to see what Paschal has to say'

The minister said he would address matters that were put to him yesterday by opposition members.

LAST UPDATE | 19 Jan 2023

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN has stopped short of stating that he is satisfied Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe has nothing more to disclose, telling reporters this evening that he does not want to pre-empt the minister’s statement on Tuesday.

Donohoe will make a further statement involving his 2016 general election campaign and matters that were put to him last night by the opposition next Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters in Farmleigh House in Phoenix Park this evening, Martin said:

“I’m going to wait to see what Paschal has to say to the House… we look forward to that. I’m not going to pre-empt what Paschal has to say.”

He said it will be statement and questions format, adding:

I think in fairness I’m going to wait to see what Paschal has to say to the House.

“But more broadly speaking as I said today, we do need balance and perspective in relation to these issues and I found Paschal Donohoe to be a very honourable person to deal with in government over the last two and a half years, I have to say that. I think he has the country’s interests at heart, he’s a very committed and dedicated parliamentarian and minister and that’s that,” said Martin.

The Tánaiste said that a complaint has been made to Sipo and the Dáil established legislation specifically for the purpose of responding to such complaints either through a preliminary inquiry or subsequent investigation.

“I think there is a challenge there for us all within the Oireachtas whether you have a long parallel process. He has come before the Dáil as you know yesterday, he has indicated he is going to come before the Dáil again to clarify some of the issues that have been raised, I presume yesterday in the Dáil by members of the Opposition and we look forward to that,” he said.

When asked about the matter and whether he is confident nothing more is to come, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said:

“I would have a very similar perspective to the Tánaiste. I was asked questions on this this morning at a press conference and on radio and I’d agree with the Tánaiste. My sense is there are questions to be answered, first and most importantly place where that is under law done in the Standards of Public Office.

“I think it’s difficult sometimes to do it in the Dáil because in a sense those asking the questions may have questions asked of them in turn. How does that work? But I absolutely respect Paschal decided to return and to answer some of the questions he was asked. He has that right and I respect that and I think let that happen.”

Ryan said it is his understanding that Donohoe wanted to respond to some of the questions that he had been asked of him by the opposition and that was why he asked to be facilitated next week.

Tuesday’s statement

Donohoe will address the Dáil after Taoiseach’s Questions for 10 minutes. Each opposition group will then have six minutes for a back-and-forth question and answer session.
Donohoe will then have five minutes to conclude proceedings.

While answering parliamentary questions in the chamber this morning, Donohoe told the Dáil that he would make a further statement on the matter at the earliest opportunity.

While it was the view of the Dáil business committee that it would be preferable for the statement to be made today, Donohoe told the Dáil that he would be unable to make a statement this afternoon.

Responding to a point of order raised by Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, Donohoe said: “I’m not in a position to come in front of the house this afternoon.”

However, Doherty criticised Donohoe over the delay, labelling it as “totally unacceptable”.

“It is completely and utterly unacceptable that the minister has said he won’t come before the House until next week, absolutely unacceptable.”

This means that the issue is likely to be pushed into next week, with Tuesday the earliest possible day.

Varadkar says it is a matter for Sipo

Speaking to reporters in Davos today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he accepts the explanations put forward by Donohoe, stating that they are “valid”.

“He of course accepts that he should have put his affairs in order months ago, when he first became aware that there may be issues,” he said.

Varadkar said it is now a matter for Sipo.

“I think it’s a little strange that the same people who stand up from the Dáil calling for the Standards Commission to be strengthened now don’t want the Standards Commission do its work. They want to prejudge the outcome of that inquiry.

“I think it is important now that we allow the Standards Commission to do its work, to examine all of the evidence, to talk to the people involved and make a determination. I really believe in the rule of law and due process to fair hearing, and that’s what should happen here,” he added.

Minister’s apology

The minister yesterday apologised to the Dáil for what he said 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 yesterday evening stating that he would not be commenting further as he didn’t want to have “any undue influence” on any process SIPO may undertake.

Opposition parties were unhappy with only being given an opportunity to issue a five minute statement in response to the minister, stating that there were a lot of unanswered questions. They also disputed the figures provided by Donohoe yesterday.

Amid angry scenes in the Dail yesterday, Donohoe said he was not making light of the controversy over his election expenses.

He said: “Many questions have been put to me on points of detail which I have done my best to answer in the submission which has now been provided to Sipo.

“I will engage with them in a full way in any matters they want to raise with me.

“The suggestion has been made here this evening that I am in some way making light of what has happened.

“Far from it. I recognise the seriousness of what has happened here.

“But there are many issues which fall to Sipo to form an evaluation on.”

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.

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”.

Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally

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