Breakdown of public funding of parties offers incomplete picture

Opinion: Sipo renewed its call for legislative change to require parties to publish full accounts

‘SIPO used the occasion to draw attention again to the limited nature of the information which the parties are required to provide.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

‘SIPO used the occasion to draw attention again to the limited nature of the information which the parties are required to provide.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

Sat, May 24, 2014, 01:01

In recent months, when investigating the expenditure of the Rehab Group and the Central Remedial Clinic, the Public Accounts Committees and others have asserted a right to do so on the basis that these bodies are at least part-funded by the State. The other justification for an entitlement to closely examine the finances of these bodies is that they are also funded by donations from the general public.

Politicians have been less enthusiastic, however, about insisting on transparency in the use of public funds by another category of organisations which are State-funded and which receive public donations, namely political parties themselves.

This week, the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) reported on the State funding paid over to political parties last year and also published the returns which political parties made to Sipo on how they spent that money. The commission used the occasion to draw attention again to the limited nature of the information which the parties are required to provide.

Sipo also renewed

its call for legislative change to require parties to publish full accounts. The first line of funding detailed by Sipo this week is known as the “party leaders’ allowance”.

This is a grant paid annually to the qualifying party in relation to expenses arising from parliamentary activities, including research. A qualifying party is defined in the legislation as a political party, registered in the Register of Political Parties, which contested the last general election or any subsequent byelections and which had at least one member elected to Dáil Éireann or elected or nominated to Seanad Éireann.

The money paid under the party leaders’ allowance is calculated by reference to the number of members of the party elected to Dáil Éireann or elected or nominated to Seanad Éireann.

If a qualifying party is in government, however, the amount they get in respect of their members of the Dáil only is reduced by one-third. This is to reflect the fact that about one-third of government TDs are office holders who are separately provided with salaries for advisers and staffing for constituency work from within their departments.

Parliamentary activity In order to balance funding under this heading, non-party members of the Dáil each received €41,152 to fund parliamentary activity and every Independent Senator gets €23,383 in similar funding.

The second form of grant given to political parties is exchequer funding paid under section 20 of the Electoral Act 1997. Under this, each of the four larger parties got €126,974 in 2014 and, in addition, got a share of a further fund of €4,948,202 divided up by reference to the first-preference votes they received at the last general election.

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