Political donations by unions to be banned

 

THE GOVERNMENT is to ban donations from trade unions to political parties as part of the planned legislation to end corporate donations to political parties, the Minister for the Environment John Gormley has said.

Such a ban would particularly hit the Labour Party, which receives the vast bulk of trade union donations.

Speaking at a meeting of Green Party members in Limerick on Saturday, he said that he intended to change the way politics was funded and to curb the influence of lobbyists, when the Dáil returned in September.

The Minister said that his planned reforms would also involve the introduction of a register of lobbyists to regulate their activities. He said that new legislation which the Green Party would propose would end not just corporate donations but also donations from trade unions.

“Is it really good for our society if the unions are hand-in-glove with the Labour Party and dictating policy?

“The Croke Park agreement, which, extraordinarily, Labour did not publicly back because of a possible backlash from some of their donor unions, shows that public service reform is possible and indeed long overdue. If Labour had been in power it might never have happened.”

The country’s largest trade union, Siptu, had a political fund of around €121,000 in 2007 and €117,000 in 2008 – the vast bulk of which would have gone to the Labour Party.

The Labour Party yesterday said that it would oppose moves by the Government to ban donations from trade unions.

A spokesman for the Labour Party said that it had been founded by the trade union movement and had long and historic associations with it. However, he said that the Labour Party in the past had taken stances which were opposed by trade unions.

He said that such a ban was not necessary as donations arising from the open association of the Labour Party with the trade union movement could not be compared with donations from developers.

The spokesman said that the amount the Labour Party received from trade unions was very small and represented about 5 per cent of turnover.

Chairman of the Greens Senator Dan Boyle said yesterday that the party recognised no distinction between political donations from a business corporation and a trade union.

“They are one and the same thing as far as we’re concerned: it’s the same principle. That legislation is being prepared by the department for the autumn.”

It was envisaged that no distinction would be made between business corporations and “corporate bodies in general, including trade unions”, none of whom would be allowed to make political donations.

Mr Gormley also strongly criticised the influence of lobbyists in the political process.

“These individuals or companies who are paid handsomely by companies to achieve certain policy objectives have ready access to those in power. Many of them have previously been involved in political parties and know the system and the personalities. They also know the journalists and opinion formers.

“The influence of lobbyists is pervasive and at times pernicious. This is why we need a register of lobbyists to regulate their activities. It would immediately allow the public to identify these individuals and the causes they espouse,” he said.