Fianna Fáil declares zero donations for fourth year running

Standards in Public Office Commission publishes report on party political donations

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: contributed €1,700 of Fine Gael’s declared donations of €65,324. Photograph: Julien Warnand/Reuters

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: contributed €1,700 of Fine Gael’s declared donations of €65,324. Photograph: Julien Warnand/Reuters

 

Fianna Fáil has declared zero donations for the fourth year running in its annual return to the Standards in Public Office Commission even though it raises substantial funds from supporters.

The rules on disclosure for donations under electoral law do not require a party to disclose a donation received from an individual unless it is over €1,500. The maximum allowable donation from a corporate body is €200, unless they are registered as a corporate donor.

The annual report on party political donations for 2016 was published by SIPO yesterday and showed that eight parties and groups received a total of €163,640 in donations, that were above the declarable threshold.

However, the current legislation does not allow the capture of the full information on the sources of political funding. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael raise hundreds of thousands of euro each year on their annual draws but those details are not included in the report.

Of the declared donations disclosed in this report, most were made by TDs, Senators, MEPs, unions and party activists, with fewer than 10 donations over €1,500 being made by supporters who were not actively engaged in politics.

The party which declared most was Fine Gael, with €65,324. All of those donations were made by individual parliamentary party members, including the new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, who contributed €1,700.

Socialist Party

The second-highest figure was, surprisingly, from the Socialist Party which declared €39,518. Those sums were contributed by the party’s outgoing TDs, its councillors as well as prominent party supporters.

Sinn Féin declared the third-highest figure, at €32,883. Again all the contributions, bar one, were made by members of the Dáil, the Seanad and the European Parliament.

The Labour Party’s total of almost €5,000 came from only two sources – the Siptu trade union and party leader Brendan Howlin.

In recent years, SIPO has begun to require declarations from every accounting unit (usually local branches) of all political parties and groupings, which have raised more than €100 in a calendar year.

In all, there are 161 such units, the majority of which are attached to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. In some years the closing balance cumulatively has exceeded €1 million but no further information is made available as to what funds are lodged and deposited from these accounts, or how active they are. Last year, the cumulative balance was €583,883 but it is unknown to what extent, if any, other funds in these accounts were used during the general election year of 2016.

Funding transparency

The commission, chaired by Mr Justice Daniel O’Keeffe, has consistently asked for more transparency. Such transparency would allow the public greater insight into the spending activities of political parties and groupings, as well as the source of their income.

It again makes this point in the latest report: “Accounting units are not required to submit a donation statement to the commission. This makes it difficult for the commission to ascertain the source of monies held in accounting units’ political donations account.

“The commission continues to be of the view that further refinement of the legislation is required to ensure that there is full transparency in respect of accounting units.”