Fine Gael spent €200,000 of state funds on opinion polls, data shows

Spending returns for parties published by Standards in Public Office Commission

Fine Gael spent over €200,000 of state funding on opinion polling and focus groups last year, in the run up to February's general election.

The party also spent over €100,000 on its website and social media services, according to spending returns published by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO).

Fine Gael’s extensive use of focus groups to road test its policies and election slogans, such as the “keep the recovery going” phrase, widely seen to have been ill-judged, was criticised by some TDs in the aftermath of a poor election for the party.

The state funding documents only apply for 2015 and do not cover the immediate run up to the general election.

In total, Fine Gael received €2,394,394 in 2015 with €889,033 carried over from 2014, bringing the total available for last year to €3,283,427.

Of the overall expenditure in 2015, €251,425 went on policy formulation, €178,604 on consultants’ services and €205,611 on “polling or public attitude sampling”.

Of the remainder, €1,809,043 went on support services and €119,481 on general administration. The policy formulation spend of €251,425 was divided between €80,905 for its ard fheis and €170,520 on “policy research”. The spend on social media and the website fell within the €1,809,043 for support services.

Fianna Fáil received €1,538,415, with €40,008 carried over from 2014. Party leader Micheál Martin received an extra €30,000 as a top up to his TD salary, with €39,437 spent on consultants.

The documents, published on the SIPO website, also show that now super junior minister Finian McGrath spent over €11,000 of on a poll in his Dublin Bay North constituency.

Independent TDs receive €37,000 in a so-called leader’s allowance, to make up for the State funding given to political parties. The programme for government agreed this year between Fine Gael and Independents, however, said that state funding will be extended to “political groups who stood on a common policy platform in the general election”.

This will replace the leader’s allowance for groups like Mr McGrath’s Independent Alliance.

The returns also show that Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice spent €11,520 on public relations in 2015. Former Independent deputy Tom Fleming, who decided against running at the last election, spent €3,080 on "technical and specialist advice", €24,014 on "research and training" and €22,000 on consultants.

While he received €37,000 in 2015, Mr Fleming brought forward €16,680 from 2014 and spent a total of €53,700 last year.

Mr McGrath also spent €4,000 on PR consultants and €11,377 on a constituency opinion poll by polling company Red C.

Sinn Féin received €975,919, with €172,298 going on policy formation and the remainder on administration, support services and research and training. The party also brought €39,919 forward from the previous year.

Labour last year received €1,590,770 and brought forward €1,741,970 from the previous year, giving a total of €3,332,740 for 2015.

Labour last year received €1,590,770 and brought forward €1,741,970 from the previous year, giving a total of €3,332,740 for 2015.

Of this, €1,490,650 was spent on general administration with €262,475 going on research and training and €181,631 on policy formation.

SIPO also released the levels of donations received by political parties yesterday. Fine Gael received the highest on €98,752 but this was overwhelmingly comprised of individual donations from its parliamentary party.