Fine Gael took in the most of all political parties in membership fees in the year leading up to the last general election, according to new filings which reveal for the first time how much is paid from rank and file members.
The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) yesterday released the first annual statement of accounts from all political parties in the State.
The accounts, from 2015, contain some amounts of information that is dealt with in other Sipo filings but it is the first time parties have had to declare their income from membership fees.
While it is difficult to calculate the exact membership levels of each party, the amount of money raised through fees can be taken as a rough guide to a party’s grassroots health.
Fine Gael, in total, collected €429,190 from membership fees, but €104,320 was from Ministers, TDs and senators providing annual donations. Ministers pay the most, because of their larger salary, followed by TDs and followed by senators.
The rank and file membership paid €324,820 at €15 per person, which would mean there were just over 21,600 members. The party is increasing its fees to €20 for the forthcoming year. Party sources claimed their usual membership is around the 30,000 mark.
Fianna Fáil took in €272,373 in membership fees during 2015, and €67,793 in donations. Fianna Fáil membership costs €20 per person, but party sources said membership level could not be extrapolated from this because the figure included "associated costs". It also has reduced rates for three-year, five-year and life membership.
A party source said the membership of Fianna Fáil usually stood between 15,000 and 20,000. Membership fees were introduced for the first time in 2013 as part of a move to a “one member, one vote” system.
The Labour Party accounts show that it took in €163,717 in membership fees in 2014, as well as €202,588 in 2015. Its fees are €15, with pensioners charged €10.
The Labour records also showed that TDs Brendan Howlin and Joan Burton donated €2,400 each in 2015, as did former Kildare TD Emmet Stagg.
Sinn Féin's filings include records for Northern Ireland and the Republic. Its membership fees totalled €48,958 for individual members and €20,594 for affiliate members. Its membership fees are €5 for those out of work and €10 for everyone else. For those in Northern Ireland, the rates are £5 and £10.
Sinn Féin also declared €1.6 million in assets for three buildings: €850,000 for 44 Parnell Square, Dublin; €650,000 for 58 Parnell Square, Dublin; and €100,000 for the Falls Road office in Belfast.
The Communist Party declared a building worth €500,000, understood to be its headquarters in Temple Bar, Dublin. It took in €1,500 in membership, as well as €15,000 for renting out some of its building for use as a theatre. The Communist Party also had €42,000 in the bank at the end of 2015.
However, Sipo has said smaller parties such as the Communists, who do not receive exchequer funding because they do not receive enough electoral support, should not have to furnish audited statements of accounts.
This would “streamline the process”, according to Sipo and reduce the burden on smaller parties.