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Explainer: What happens to Socialist Party funding now that Clare Daly is gone?

Clare Daly has asked the Socialist Party to pass on some of the allowance it gets for her membership. What’s going on?

Joe Higgins and Clare Daly have differing opinions about what should happen to the funding the Socialist Party gets, now that Daly has left the fold.
Joe Higgins and Clare Daly have differing opinions about what should happen to the funding the Socialist Party gets, now that Daly has left the fold.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

ASIDE FROM the political impact, Clare Daly’s resignation from the Socialist Party also has a fairly profound effect on the party’s financing – and on her own political machine.

Daly has asked her former party to pass on her share of the Exchequer funding – which it will continue to receive, even though she is no longer among its Dáil ranks – so that she has the same financial footing as her independent colleagues.

Joe Higgins, however, has said the party will ask the Department of Finance to instead hang onto the cash itself – meaning Daly’s political departure could also have a major impact on her work as a TD.

Here’s our brief guide to what’s going on.

The legal standpoint

The legal system which oversees the state funding of political parties is wholly based on whether or not they managed to get a TD elected in the last general election.

A law introduced in 2001 provided for a formal payment to each party, but its wording is rigid – and essentially means that a party’s payments are governed solely by a TD’s membership at the time of their election.

This technicality has raised its head before: Beverley Flynn was an independent when she retained her Dáil seat in 2007, so Fianna Fáil didn’t start receiving any extra funding after she rejoined the party fold the following year.

In fact, Flynn – as with any independent TD – is given their own ‘leaders’ allowance’, effectively treating them as the leader of their own one-person party. She continued to receive an annual allowance of €41,152 even after she rejoined Fianna Fáil – at least, until a media storm forced her into returning it.

The allowance is intended to cover the likes of press officers, researchers and office staff – and to help give independent TDs a little extra support in trying to keep up with their better-staffed party rivals.

What this means

So because the wording of the law is quite specific – and links a TD’s or party’s funding to their status at the last election – any arrivals or departures into the party don’t trigger an automatic change in the payments.

This becomes an important factor for TDs in several ways – not least because it means that those who were elected as party TDs don’t get any private funding if they leave. This is the case with the likes of former Labour members Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty.

It also means that parties who take an electoral hit have to let their staff go. The Green Party lost all state funding when it returned no TDs last year, resulting in the departure of several staff, while Fianna Fáil also had to let staff go when its allowance was slashed.

In the case of smaller parties like the Socialists – who got two TDs, Daly and Joe Higgins, elected last year – the departure poses further questions.

The current funding setup means that parties get €71,520 for each of their first ten TDs. This means the Socialists are entitled to €143,040 in annual funding – a figure fixed until the next election, irrespective of the fact that Daly has now left.

The lasting dispute

Because she does not automatically get any extra funding for herself, Daly has asked her former party to pass on the €41,152 that she would receive if she was outside the party at the time of her election.

She claims that it is inappropriate for her former party to keep receiving over €71,000 each year – a point Joe Higgins agrees with.

That doesn’t mean that the Socialists will be passing on the cash, though: this morning Higgins said that while the party was legally entitled to hang onto that funding, it would instead be telling the Department of Finance to hang onto half of the money.

This would mean that the money goes straight back into state coffers – where it would remain, and not be redistributed to Daly who will have to go without the extra staff supports that the allowance would cover.

Though both Daly and her former colleagues say they remain on good terms and willing to work on developing the United Left Alliance as a political movement, the row could yet prompt further discord between them.

Read: Daly’s stance could hinder future of ULA, says Higgins

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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