INTO made donations to 21 political candidates in 2019

Taoiseach and Ryan among politicians who had to return donations to their parties

The Sipo report shows Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan were among the politicians who returned donations they received in 2019. Photograph: Julien Behal/ PA Wire

The Sipo report shows Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan were among the politicians who returned donations they received in 2019. Photograph: Julien Behal/ PA Wire

 

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) made donations of €1,000 – the maximum allowed under political funding rules – to 21 local and European candidates in 2019, the latest Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) report shows.

The union said it maintained a “political fund” as provided for in trade union law which was open to its members to apply for and was designed to encourage teachers to seek political office.

“The amount and payment of grants, subject to limits set out in law, are at the discretion of the central executive committee.

“Generally, the INTO process does not distinguish between parties or affiliation of members who are candidates,” it said.

The recipients were Michael Ryan of Aontú; Helena Byrne Teehan of Renua; Cathal Crowe and Joe Killeen of Fianna Fáil; Stephen Marken of the Social Democrats; Sorcha Nic Cormaic, Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin and Eolan Ryng of Sinn Féin; Mary Cahillane and Seónaidh Ní Shíomóin of Solidarity People Before Profit; Fergus Carpenter, Alison Gilliland, Seána Ó Rodaigh and Lorraine Ní Sceallaigh of the Labour Party; Fergal Browne, Maria Doyle, Aileen Horkan, Siobhan Shovlin and Alice O’Donnell of Fine Gael; as well as Independents Harry Barrett and Fidelma Healy Eames.

Separately, the Sipo report shows Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan are among politicians who returned donations they received in 2019 as their parties were not registered corporate donors.

The report on political donations also shows that Sinn Féin TD Pádraig MacLochlainn returned €1,000 that he received, in his case from a company that owns his constituency office.

Registered donors

Corporate donors, which are defined to include political parties and their local branches, that wish to donate more than €200 to a politician must be registered with Sipo.

The Sipo report identifies six politicians who got donations greater than this from their political parties including local branches which were not registered as corporate donors at the time the donations were made. 

Sipo wrote to the politicians who all either returned the full donation or the excess over €200.

Fianna Fáil leader Mr Martin returned the full €1,000 donation to his party.

Michael McGrath, now the Minister for Public Expenditure, returned €800 of a €1,000 donation from the party’s branch in Cork South Central.

Senator Malcolm Byrne, who contested three elections in 2019, the local and European elections and the Wexford byelection, returned €2,900 to Fianna Fáil of a combined €3,100 donated by branches in Wexford and Gorey.  

A Fianna Fáil spokeswoman said that once Sipo drew the issue to their attention, the party took steps to resolve the matter.

She said Fianna Fáil and its branches were now registered as a corporate donor and “Sipo confirmed that all steps taken ensured our compliance with the necessary regulations.” 

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, the party’s deputy leader Catherine Martin – both now Coalition Ministers – and MEP Ciarán Cuffe all returned €800 of €1,000 donations from the party or one of its branches.

A spokeswoman said the Green Party had corporate donor status for 2021.

She said “the issue arose from a misinterpretation by the party of the guidelines and Sipo provided a legal ruling in 2021 on the matter”. 

“Our representatives responded without delay and made the appropriate refunds to the party.”

Statutory declaration

Donegal TD Mr MacLochlainn returned the full €1,000 donation he received from Donegal Office Services.

The Sipo report categorised it as a donation from an unregistered corporate donor. Mr MacLochlainn believes the refund was required because he omitted to include a statutory declaration with his donation declaration.

Mr MacLochlainn said that in 2017 and 2018, he declared €1,000 donations from Donegal Office Services “in the form of reduced rent for the office that I rent from them in Letterkenny for those years”.

“In 2019, I did so again but I omitted to include a statutory declaration form with my donation declaration to Sipo as required and I therefore agreed with Sipo to return the €1,000 in reduced rent to Donegal Office Services.”

A Sipo statement said that Donegal Office Services is a registered corporate donor and was in 2019, the year of the report.

However, it said that a donation from a registered donor must be accompanied by a Statement of Approval and a statutory declaration from the company to the recipient, stating that the donation was approved.”

It said: “The recipient must be able to furnish this statement on request by the Commission.

“Where a donation exceeds the maximum allowable amount, the excess must be refused, returned or remitted to the Standards Commission.”

The statement said the Sipo report “is accurate, in that an excess amount fell to be returned to the donor in this instance”.

“The Deputy did also need to provide the Statement of Approval and the statutory declaration from the donor to the Commission.”