European election candidate fined for failure to submit donations, expenses paperwork

Standards in Public Office Commission ‘bent over backwards’ to ensure compliance, judge says

Paddy Fitzgerald did not attend the hearing of his case at Cashel District Court on Thursday. File photograph: iStock

Paddy Fitzgerald did not attend the hearing of his case at Cashel District Court on Thursday. File photograph: iStock

 

An Independent candidate who ran in the 2019 European elections for Ireland South has been fined €1,500 for failing to meet his statutory requirements in submitting expenses and donations paperwork.

Paddy Fitzgerald of Loughloher in Cahir, Co Tipperary, did not attend the hearing of his case at Cashel District Court on Thursday.

Convicting him in his absence Judge Terence Finn said the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) had “bent over backwards” to ensure compliance, emailing and sending letters by post to Mr Fitzgerald on a number of occasions.

He convicted him on both counts of failing to submit his donations information and failing to submit his expenses record and fined him €750 on each count.

Barrister Eoin Lawlor JC, who prosecuted the case, said European election candidates have 56 days after the close of poll to submit the relevant paperwork on expenses and donations but that Mr Fitzgerald failed to do so.

The court heard from solicitor Martin Harvey, who was the returning officer for the European elections in Ireland South in 2019. Mr Harvey confirmed Mr Fitzgerald had gone through the nomination process for the election and was on the ballot, being eliminated on the fifth count with the subsequent distribution of his 3,333 papers.

The election took place on May 25th, 2019, but the close of poll did not occur until June 5th as a re-count was carried out in the constituency.

Mr Fitzgerald, who by default served as his own election official as he had not appointed one, failed to submit paperwork to Sipo in relation to donations and expenses, the court heard.

Efforts to contact

The court then heard from three senior officials of Sip who outlined to the court their efforts to make contact with Mr Fitzgerald about his failure to comply with his statutory requirements.

Raymond Butler of Sipo said that prior to the election all of the candidates were contacted by email with guidelines on how to comply with their statutory obligations in relation to election documentation.

On July 24th, 2019, Mr Butler emailed Mr Fitzgerald and referred to him having missed the deadline of 56 days in terms of submitting donation and expenses information.

He received no response.

He wrote by letter to Mr Fitzgerald at his home in Cahir on August 8th, 2019, and attempted to phone the Independent candidate on August 20th, 2019, but was unable to make contact.

All the necessary documentation was furnished to Mr Fitzgerald by Sipo.

Mr Butler again contacted Mr Fitzgerald by post on the 3rd of September 2019 and reiterated his need to submit his donation and expenses information. It was indicated at this juncture that the matter would be left with the gardaí if no response was forthcoming. No contact was made by Mr Fitzgerald.

No response

Miriam Harkin of Sipo gave evidence that she too wrote a number of emails to Mr Fitzgerald in June 2019, setting out his statutory requirements. She sent a final email to him in July 2019. No response was received by Sipo.

The court heard that every effort was made to assist Mr Fitzgerald in complying with his statutory requirements.

A file on the matter was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions who decided to prosecute Mr Fitzgerald on two counts of failing to submit his donations and expenses paperwork.

At the time of his European candidacy Mr Fitzgerald ran on a platform calling for enforcement of anti-corruption, fair access to opportunities, removal of corrupt officials and protection for the vulnerable.