Minister Donohoe delivers second Dáil statement on SIPO controversy
On 15 January, Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform, Paschal Donohoe, was made the subject of a complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) pertaining to a donation encompassing the cost of services during the 2016 General election. Further complicating the matter, is the fact that SIPO is a component of Minister Donohoe’s portfolio. Following the instigation of a SIPO investigation into the complaint, Minister Donohoe took the decision to recuse himself from his ministerial responsibilities pertaining to SIPO – until the conclusion of the investigation.
Minister Donohoe then delivered a statement to the Dáil on 18 January, to apologise and offer greater detail on the matter underpinning the complaint. In his statement, he updated that he had become aware that during the 2016 election, businessman Michael Stone had paid six people – as a “personal payment” – to hand posters in the Dublin Central constituency to the value of €917. Furthermore, the Minister – in 2017 – did not update his expenses when he was made aware of the usage of a corporate van to help hang posters valued at €140.
After this statement, the opposition decried the alleged discrepancies in his statement and the lack of opportunity for TDs to question the Minister. In a surprising move, the Minister announced his intention to deliver a further statement to the Dáil the following week to ensure the information he was proving was as “accurate as possible.”
In his second statement to the Dáil, Minister Donohoe confirmed that “an amendment will be made to my 2020 general election expenses form to reflect the new information to the amount of €864 for labour and €392.20 for vehicles for support received during the election period.” The Minister stated that he had also become aware of “an unauthorised corporate donation of €434.20…unknowingly received by Fine Gael Dublin Central.” SIPO was notified of the breach, with the excess amount to be refunded to the Mr Stone’s Designer Group.
In his own statement prior to Minister Donohoe’s second Dáil Statement, Michael Stone apologised for “any embarrassment that I have caused Paschal for my mistaken recollection in relation to 2020.” He also took the further steps to step down from his positions as Chairperson of the North East Inner City Programme Implementation Board and board member of the Land Development Agency.
Unsurprisingly, the opposition response has been severely critical of the Minister – with People Before Profit outright calling for the Minister’s resignation if SIPO finds he was in breach of electoral regulations. During Leaders’ Questions, Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald charged that Minister Donohoe had misled the Dáil.
Notwithstanding the opposition criticism, all three coalition leaders – Fianna Fáil Leader & Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Fine Gael Leader & Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Green Party Leader & Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, and also for Transport, Eamon Ryan – spoke out in defence of Paschal Donohoe. Attention now turns to SIPO’s investigations into the matter, and their findings therein.