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The High Court.

The Ditch gets permission to challenge SIPO for not providing Taoiseach's donation statement

The Ditch claims SIPO refused to provide it with Leo Varadkar’s 2022 annual donations statement last year before it was presented to the Oireachtas.

THE DITCH HAS secured the High Court’s permission to challenge the Standards in Public Office Commission’s (Sipo’s) refusal to provide the media outlet with details of donations made to Irish politicians before they are presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

In judicial review proceedings against Sipo, The Ditch’s owner – Ditch Media Limited -  claims that it requested a copy of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s 2022 annual donation statement from Sipo last August.

However it claims Sipo refused to provide it with the document before it has been put before both houses of the Oireachtas.

When that response was questioned by the news website, it claims that SIPO said in reply that its ability to properly complete its compliance function would be “hampered” if the material sought was provided.

In its High Court action, The Ditch says that the decision is flawed and should be set aside.

The applicant claims that the refusal is preventing it from investigating the contents of the statement and from exercising its rights under the 1997 Electoral Act to access to the said information.

It also claims that it has been denied fair procedures.

It says it wishes to obtain the 2022 donations statements of other politicians as well as the Taoiseach.

However it alleges it is being prevented from doing so due to what it claims is the unlawful position being adopted by Sipo. 

Represented by Michael Conlon SC, the applicant claims that under the 1997 Act, any member of the public can obtain and inspect any donation statement submitted to the Commission within the preceding three-year period.

It is claimed that the Ditch is not precluded from getting the statement before it is put before the Dail and the Seanad.

It claims that Sipo’s refusal is inadequately reasoned and that Sipo has “impermissibly withheld information from the public for inadequate reasons”.

It is further claimed that Sipo has misdirected itself by failing to give any adequate reasons for its decision not furnish the donation statement.

The Ditch has asked the High Court for an order quashing Sipo’s refusal to grant it access to the annual donation statement for 2022.

The investigative journalism site, which was founded in 2021, is owned by editor Eoghan McNeil and journalists Roman Shortall and Paulie Doyle. It also seeks declarations including that Sipo has erred in its construction of the 1997 Act.

The matter came before Ms Justice Niamh Hyland, who on an ex-parte basis granted the media company permission to bring its action.

The case will return before the High Court in February.

Aodhan O Faolain