Political parties now almost wholly reliant on State funding

FF, FG and Labour in rude good financial health, Sipo accounts show

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

 

Audited accounts for the main political parties, published by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) on Tuesday, show that public funding now makes up the vast bulk of party income and is being used by the parties to prepare for elections next year.

While both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil raise significant funds through members’ subscriptions and fundraising, these receipts are dwarfed by three separate strands of funding by the taxpayer.

In Fianna Fáil’s case, for example, its accounts show the party received €1.6 million in funding under the electoral acts (linked to its share of the vote), plus €2.4 million under the party leaders’ allowance (linked to the number of Oireachtas members) and €1.6 million in staffing costs from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission – a total of €5.6 million in State funding for 2017.

It will receive similar grants this year.

Fianna Fáil also raised €400,000 in subscriptions and netted almost €550,000 from its national draw and €180,000 from its national collection, including its church-gate collection.

The party used its strong financial position to clear bank loans of more than €900,000 and is now debt free, according to the accounts.

It spent some €300,000 on professional fees and research during the year, an increase of €200,000 on the previous year. It recorded a surplus for the year of €1.4 million and has a cash pile of almost €700,00 at the end of the year.

Fine Gael is in similar rude financial health.

It recorded total income of €6.2 million for the year, of which State funding made up almost €4.7 million. Because it is in government, and many of its TDs are Ministers and so receive the support of the civil service, Fine Gael receives less than Fianna Fáil under the leaders’ allowance and in Oireachtas supports.

It recorded membership fees of €476,000, as well as fundraising receipts of more than €500,000.

Outgoings included research and consultancy of over €200,000, an expenditure of €46,000 on “gender equality”, and like Fianna Fáil, it also paid down loans, in its case of almost €700,000.

The party had a surplus for the year of €1.6 million, and had available cash of €1.6 million at the end of the year.

Sinn Féin, in what the party describes as its “26 County Report”, records State funding of €3.4 million, membership income of €135,000 and donations of €127,000, many of which come from its elected representatives’ salaries, the party says.

But the party recorded a deficit for the year – the only one of the big parties to do so – of €50,000, after a surplus of almost €200,000 the previous year. It showed net funds of €150,000, down from €240,000 at the beginning of 2017.

Though greatly reduced in size and clout, the Labour Party is in perhaps the healthiest financial position of all, having retained a cash pile from when it was much larger in parliamentary terms, and therefore received more State funding.

Subscriptions

The party received €1.6 million in public funding and took in about €100,000 in subscriptions, recording a surplus of €150,000. It has a cash pile of some €2 million.

The Green Party received €530,000 from the State and had a surplus for the year of €150,000.

Its account shows a cash pile at the end of 2017 of about €400,000, though the party makes the distinction between “restricted” cash of €342,000 – sourced from the State and therefore subject to regulations about how it can be used – and “unrestricted” funds of €64,000.

However, the reality is that parties can get around many of the restrictions by spending the cash on preparing for elections, rather than actually fighting them.

The Social Democrats took in more than €600,000, almost entirely from State funding, and spent all of it, recording a small deficit of €2,000 – compared to a surplus of €225,000 the previous year.

It has €200,000 in cash and reserves. The party’s accounts also note that both its TDs – Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy – are each owed €2,500.

Solidarity/People Before Profit received State funding of almost €900,000, and spent it all – and more – recording total spending for the year of €904,000. At the end of the year the party had available cash of €150,000, though €145,000 is described as “restricted”.

The commission also reported that five registered parties either have not submitted audited accounts or had submitted incomplete statements, and are not compliant with the law.

They are: Fís Nua, Identity Ireland, the United People party, the Irish Democratic Party and the Workers’ Party.