Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe failed to properly record election expenses paid by a friend who was later included on a list of names he submitted as suitable to head up a State taskforce headquartered in his constituency.
Mr Donohoe on Sunday night apologised at length for submitting the inaccurate returns, which he believed were “accurate and true” at the time he put them in.
He said he now accepted that he failed to correctly record €1,057 in election expenses, which was paid for in the form of a donation to Dublin Central Fine Gael by the businessman Michael Stone.
Mr Donohoe said he had in recent weeks become aware that €917 had been paid to six workers for postering by Mr Stone before the election. He had previously believed the work was done on a voluntary basis.
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The use of a van owned by Mr Stone’s company for the postering was valued at €140. Mr Donohoe became aware of this in 2017 and, on Sunday evening, said he should have amended his election expenses then, saying it was a “clear oversight on my part, which I acknowledge and apologise for”.
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In 2017, Mr Donohoe submitted Mr Stone’s name to then taoiseach Enda Kenny as one of a list of people who would be suitable for chairmanship of the North East Inner City taskforce, an organisation based in Mr Donohoe’s constituency. Mr Stone was appointed by Mr Kenny to the role.
The role is unpaid and done on a voluntary basis. Mr Donohoe said on Sunday he had never been involved in decisions regarding the operation of the board or any work that happens on it.
Mr Donohoe said he would “consider the consequences” of any review undertaken of the expenses issue by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), which he has asked to amend his election statement to reflect the use of the vehicle and the cost of the labour. A complaint was made to Sipo over the matter by Liam Deegan, a freelance journalist.
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As Minister for Public Expenditure, his department is associated with legislation and policy relating to Sipo. He has now recused himself from any ministerial duties relating to the body until the completion of any process regarding the complaint it has received.
“I hugely regret that this has happened,” he said. “I hugely regret that, over the last number of months, I didn’t give this the proper consideration and I wasn’t clear on some of the facts in regard to that campaign seven years ago.”
He said he had also apologised to Mr Stone. “He is a man of the highest integrity. I accept responsibility for making all supporters aware of their obligations at election time and the declaration of responsibility sits with me.”
Speaking later after he chaired a Eurogroup meeting in Brussels as president of the group of finance ministers, Mr Donohoe said he was confident that donation limits were not exceeded and that there were no other undeclared donations.
“Even with the revisions in my election expenses that were made by my election agent yesterday, we are inside the thresholds for donations to a political party because they were received by my constituency organisation at election time and not me,” he said.
“We have reviewed all of the different expenses from other elections and I believe they are accurate.”
He also recused himself from any ministerial responsibilities regarding Sipo while it examines the issue.
Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Louise O’Reilly TD has called on the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe to “make a comprehensive statement” about donations made to his campaign during the 2016 general election.
The Minister did not amend the record in 2017 or in November of last year when asked about campaign work done on his behalf, Ms O’Reilly told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
“We want to hear from the Minister why it took him that long to contact his friend to get the information about the campaign work carried out on his behalf.
“I want to know why he didn’t amend the record in 2017, why, as recently as last November he was saying ‘there’s nothing to see here’, I want to know why it took three months for him to contact his friend to find out about that campaign work that was done on his behalf and we want to know about those workers - who were they working for?
“To me it’s baffling to think that a donation would be made in the teeth of an election campaign providing campaign work that somehow it’s not considered an election expense. I’m looking for the Minister to come out today and make a comprehensive statement and address those questions that he failed to address at the hastily convened press conference yesterday.”
Minister for Tourism and Culture Catherine Martin said Minister Donohoe has spoken to the three leaders and has recused himself from any functions in relation to SIPO while the complaint is being examined.
“I think what was really clear about his statement yesterday as well, was the immense regret and the sincerity of his apology that resonated with me. I think what we should do now is as Minister Donohoe said…the complaint will be dealt with by SIPO, I don’t want to preempt that and let’s just wait and see what comes out of that investigation,” she told the Irish Times.