No change in stance on local political party funding - Varadkar

Minister for Transport insists vacancies on standards body will be filled in new year

Minister for Transport and Tourism Leo Varadkar said there will be no change to the policy on local political funding. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Minister for Transport and Tourism Leo Varadkar said there will be no change to the policy on local political funding. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Mon, Dec 23, 2013, 11:07

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has said there will be no change on the Government’s position on political party funding at local level, a stance which is at odds with that of the Standards in Public Office Commission.

The commission has argued that the finances of local units of political parties should be subject to the same disclosure requirements as apply at national and constituency level.

It comes after the commission’s outgoing chairman, Mr Justice Matthew P Smith, in a public letter to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, rejecting th department’s view that legislation brought in last year did not cover the activities of local party units.

The commission wrote to Mr Hogan last month asking him to approve guidelines which would have included local party units within the scope of the legislation. Mr Hogan declined on the basis that the department’s legal advice was that local units were not covered by the legislation.

When it was put to him on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning that the commision was not happy with this position, Mr Varadkar replied: “That’s not really for them to determine.

“This is legislation that was passed by the Oireachtas and, as far as the Oireachtas was concerned and the Government was concerned, we were clear this was going to apply to national accounts and to constituency accounts, not to branches of eight or nine.

“The situation is is that any significant donation no matter where it goes, whether it goes to a candidate or a branch or into the party centrally has to be declared.

“What we’re talking about is small branches, maybe student societies, maybe eight or nine members who pay their membership fee, put on a table quiz and do a church collection. They’re not in a position to be doing audited accounts and if SIPO really thinks that thousands of euros in donations are being funnelled through the Fianna Fáil cumann in Bohola or something like that they’ve really got it wrong.”

Mr Varadkar also commented on two vacancies which have arisen on the commission’s board. It emerged over the weekend that the commisison will not be able to advance its current investigations or initiate new ones after legal advice sought by it suggested that it requires its full complement of six board members to investigate allegations against politicians or political parties.

Mr Varadkar said the vacanies “only arose last week and they will be filled in the new year”.

Appointments to the board of the commission must be made by the Oireachtas on the recommendation of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

The Department has said Brendan Howlin is aware of the vacancies and would take steps to fill the posts by the end of January.