Failure of parties to account for spending of public funds should be offence – Sipo

State’s political ethics watchdog criticises Renua for failing to comply with obligations

Sipo has sharply criticised Renua for failing to comply with its obligations to detail how it spent State funding for the second year in a row. Photograph: iStock

Sipo has sharply criticised Renua for failing to comply with its obligations to detail how it spent State funding for the second year in a row. Photograph: iStock

 

Failure to account for public money spent by political parties should be made an offence after Renua missed its deadline to do so for a second year running, the State’s political ethics watchdog has said.

The currently “unacceptable” situation has left the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) powerless to act against the party as it currently receives no funding and the watchdog has no other powers of censure.

In its annual report on exchequer funding of political parties, Sipo sharply criticised Renua for failing to comply with its obligations to detail how it spent State funding for the second year in a row.

The party filed its statement in respect of 2019 on August 17th this year, some 15 months after it was due, and still has not submitted its return for 2020.

While it returned no TDs in the 2020 general election, it continued to receive funding until polling day even though it lost all its seats in 2016. This is because it won 2 per cent of the first preference votes cast, entitling it to a share of the funding pot shared among political parties.

The party received €258,596 in 2019, and told Sipo it spent €225,720 on general administration,including €79,162 on salaries, €24,384 on travel and subsistence and €58,368 on consultants services.

It ran 27 candidates in 2019’s local elections, with only its then leader John Leahy securing a seat, before he stepped down in June. While the figure allotted to the party for 2020 is relatively small – €26,922 – it retained €147,023 from previous funding rounds, meaning it had almost €175,000 in State funding still available to it last year. It has not disclosed how this has been spent.

The party fielded 11 candidates in the 2020 general election but had no TDs elected and received just 0.3 per cent of the first preference vote, meaning it was not eligible for exchequer funding after the election. However, the only power Sipo has is to withhold funding until it complies. “Where a party no longer qualifies for funding, there is no consequence,” Sipo said in its report, released on Friday.

“The Commission is of the view that this situation is unacceptable,” it said. “Where a party has received public funds and fails to account for the expenditure of those funds as required by the Act, the Act should provide for sanction.”

It recommends that failure to do so should be made an offence subject to prosecution.

Renua did not respond to a request for comment.

The seven eligible political parties receiving funding shared out €5.8 million between them, which is based on a flat rate of €126,974 and a share of the remaining funding based on how they performed in terms of total first preference vote share.

Sinn Féin therefore received the most, with just under €1.5 million allotted to it. When its unspent funds from 2019 were carried forward, it had €2.23 million available, of which it spent €932,205.

Half a million of this was spent on administration, including €190,850 on salaries. A further €160,000 was spent on salaries across the branch network, and €71,000 on wages in other areas.

Fianna Fáil received €1.4 million, and carried over €126,000. It spent €1.26 million in 2020, leaving it with €300,000 to carry forward into next year. Personnel costs accounted for €381,912, while it spent €204,623 on legal and professional fees. It also spent €20,213 on “commemorations”.

Fine Gael received €1.38 million and carried over the least of the largest parties from 2019, some €91,000. It spent €1.15 million in 2020, including €602,537 on employee remuneration and €46,455 on consultancy.

Another €90,000 was spent on employee remuneration in the branch network, and €32,000 on wages for those working to promote the participation of women and young people in political activity.

The Greens received €517,446, spending €49,153 on salaries. It spent just under €60,000 on its leadership election, and another €50,000 on its annual convention and conferences.