With housing, healthcare and cost-of-living pressures crowding the domestic agenda, and the most dangerous environment for years looming internationally, the Government has made an extremely shaky start to the new year. Not for any of these reasons, though; rather, the Coalition has been struggling to deal with self-inflicted wounds.
Junior minister Damien English resigned last week after revelations that he had incorrectly completed a planning application 14 years ago when seeking permission to build his home.
This week, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe finds himself at the centre of a growing political storm. Donohoe was forced to correct his election expenses statement from 2016 after revelations that a local businessman, Michael Stone, had provided help to erect election posters. Under electoral rules, the value of his help should have been registered as a contribution to his election expenses and accounted for in a transparent way. In a statement to the media last Sunday, Donohoe strenuously apologised for his mistake.
In a Dáil statement on Wednesday, he also revealed that Stone has made further contributions to Fine Gael through the purchase of tickets to the party’s fundraising draw. Stone has also been appointed to two State bodies – he heads up the North East Inner City Implementation Board, which funds urban regeneration and community support projects, doing impressive work in one of the city’s most deprived areas, and he sits on the Land Development Agency, the body set up to co-ordinate the use of public land for social and affordable housing.
Politicians, officials, should be fined for failing to comply with disclosure obligations, ethics review finds
It has yet to be established whether Donohoe’s infractions are of a minor nature, or whether they amount to a more serious issue. A complaint has been made to the Standards in Public Office Commission and that body should be allowed to proceed with its investigations and deliberations; that is, after all, what it is for.
But the realities of politics also demand more immediate answers and explanations. In his Dáil statement on Wednesday, Donohoe failed to adequately address many of the questions raised by Opposition politicians, especially in relation to the costs of the work done for him and the issue of any further assistance he may have received. Of course, his opponents are at least as interested in damaging him as in establishing the truth; that is the nature of an adversarial parliamentary system. But Donohoe still has some explaining to do.
He has agreed to make a further statement in the Dáil on Tuesday, with time allocated for questions by Opposition parties and for Donohoe to respond. He needs to clear up the outstanding confusion about Stone’s help with his election campaign, answer reasonable questions and give credible answers. It is not too much to ask.