The Irish Times view on the Dáil debate on Paschal Donohoe’s election returns

As well as the original revelations, the poor handling of the controversy has damaged the Minister and the Government and distracted focus from more important issues

The Dáil debate on Paschal Donohoe’s election expenses underlines the damage done to the Minister and the Government by this controversy. The earlier statement from businessman Michael Stone, who paid for election posters to be erected for Donohoe in 2016 and 2020, may have removed some of the immediate danger for the Minister. But Donohoe endured an uncomfortable time in the Dáil, and he erred badly in not ensuring that he made proper returns of his election spending. His handling of the controversy has compounded the damage to himself and the Coalition.

The first principle when dealing with a political crisis like this is to issue one, full and clear explanation and apology. Instead Donohoe has issued a series of statements, most recently clarifying that Stone provided assistance in 2020 as well as 2016. The businessman’s statement that he misinformed the Minister last week regarding assistance given in 2020 gives Donohoe some cover, but the facts should have been fully established when the controversy arose. Indeed, more careful accounting for election spending would have ensured this was done in the original returns. Donohoe is hardly alone in making an incomplete spending return and the system clearly needs streamlining and clarity. But the errors and the responsibility in this case were his.

The Opposition continues to raise queries about the whole affair, some reasonable, some driven by the desire to inflict as much damage as possible. Having outlined his case that the donations were to the party rather than him personally, and that his valuation of them was reasonable, Donohoe has little option but to fight on these points. The Opposition cannot categorically prove otherwise.

However, the Government will know that even if this initial phase of the controversy may be drawing to a close – barring further revelations – the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) has yet to decide how to respond.


Donohoe, now Minister for Public Expenditure, is a central political figure in the Coalition and has played an important role in recent years as an effective finance minister. He appears to have won the support of his Government colleagues, no doubt in part because they realise how important he is to the operation of the Coalition. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar argues that proportionality should apply.

The Government will have wanted the start of the new political term to be dominated by its plans to tackle the issues that matter most to voters – the housing crisis and the huge challenges facing the health service.

Instead we have seen junior minister Damien English resigning and now a senior Minister mired in a messy row. For the Government, the damage is entirely self-inflicted.