Fine Gael targets Sinn Féin in law to strengthen Sipo powers on donations

Proposal comes after McDonald tells ethics watchdog it has no remit over €4m bequest by Englishman to the party

Fine Gael will this week introduce legislation to strengthen enforcement powers on foreign donations for the State’s ethics watchdog.

A party senator Barry Ward has drafted legislation to give the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) authority to require all parties contesting elections in the State to comply with Irish laws on political donations and corruption, regardless of where they are operating.

The amending legislation is targeted at Sinn Féin in the wake of a bequest of close to €4 million by an Englishman to the party.

It comes as Sinn Féin introduces a motion of no confidence in Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar over his disclosure of a confidential document, agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation, to a rival GP organisation last year.


Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald insisted Sipo had no authority to scrutinise because it was a donation to the party in Northern Ireland.

William Hampton’s estate was left to Sinn Féin in what is the largest donation ever received by a political party on the island of Ireland.

Labour public expenditure and reform spokesman Ged Nash is also drafting legislation to reform law on political donations.

Sipo wrote to Sinn Féin last year seeking clarity about the execution of the will and in correspondence with the ethics watchdog Ms McDonald said her party operated separately on “a six-and 26-country basis”.

She said the donation was not offered to, or accepted by the Sinn Féin party “in the 26-county jurisdiction”.

The donation from Mr Hampton was received by “the Sinn Féin party, registered in the six counties, with the British Electoral Commission”.

In the State the maximum donation a political party can accept is €2,500. They also cannot accept donations from persons who reside outside the State unless they are Irish citizens.

However in the UK there is no limit on the donations that can be made to political parties by persons on the UK’s electoral register.

Sinn Féin has been accused as a consequences of using the Border to circumvent the State’s stricter controls on political donations.

Senator Ward, a barrister, said “there is a massive loophole in Irish electoral law where unlimited donations can be received through a party’s Northern Ireland operation”.

He added that the almost €4 million donation “would allow Sinn Féin to fight three general election campaigns in the Republic and still be left with a profit. To donate this money legally in the Republic would require around 1,600 individual donations.”

The amending legislation will require parties “operating on an all-island basis and contesting elections in both Northern Ireland and the Republic to adhere to our laws regarding political donations.

“It would also mean that party officers could be prosecuted here for breaking our ethics and corruption laws in another State.”

Senator Ward said Mr Hampton had “no known connection to Irish politics” as he claimed that the party had “exploited the Northern Irish loophole to claim that this gift is not subject to the strict laws regarding donations which apply to all political parties operating in this State”.

Fine Gael believes he said that Ms McDonald “should not accept a penny more of this donation than the legal limit of €2,500. That would mean returning over €3,998,500 to Mr Hampton’s estate.

“If Sinn Féin insist on exploiting the Northern Irish donations loophole, then we want Mary Lou McDonald to set out how she will ensure that not one penny of this donation is used in this State,” Mr Ward added.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times