Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has called for the Dáil to discuss the anomalies and contradictions in the Sinn Féin annual accounts and election spending returns, saying that “we have had tribunals for less”.
Mr Varadkar was responding to a question from one of his own TDs, Emer Higgins, who said that electoral laws needed to be updated.
Referring to revelations in The Irish Times at the weekend, Ms Higgins said that there were “contradictions about its electoral spend and more questions were raised about its statutory filings. It is the richest party in this country and yet it failed repeatedly to pay its bills to a local business in my constituency. Our electoral laws need to be updated and that needs to happen quickly.”
Referring to the Irish Times story, Mr Varadkar said: “We are talking about large sums of money – hundreds of thousands of euro. We have had tribunals for less. This could become a major political issue.”
He said that it would be “appropriate for some time to be set aside for statements on the matter, for the party president and party treasurer, who are members of this House, to account for what has been going on and for there to be responses.
“I strongly believe that accountability should not just be for Government parties,” Mr Varadkar said. “This is public money and public money needs to be minded. Our electoral laws underpin our democracy and must be upheld. This matter should get the attention of the House and we should hear statements from the president of Sinn Féin and the party treasurer as to what exactly has been going on here.”
Sinn Féin deputies in the chamber did not respond, and the party did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
On Saturday, The Irish Times reported that the Standards in Public Office (Sipo) Commission is investigating complaints into a series of discrepancies, contradictions and apparent mistakes in Sinn Féin’s financial statements and electoral spending returns.
The discrepancies, which amount in some cases to hundreds of thousands of euro, have been identified through detailed examinations of statutory filings to the commission in recent years.
If the complaints are upheld, Sinn Féin faces the prospect of submitting revised accounts and spending declarations. Central to the complaints are contradictions between the audited accounts that the party must submit every year, and the election spending returns.
In response, a SF spokesman dismissed reports of a Sipo investigation.
“We have a complaint dreamed up by a Fine Gael activist, and amplified by The Irish Times, with the purpose of creating political theatre in the Dáil today.
“Leo Varadkar has some brass neck. This is a man who hid behind the office of the taoiseach to attempt to stop Sipo investigating his actions in leaking a confidential government document. Now we have him and Fine Gael misusing the office of the taoiseach again in the Dáil today and seeking to use Sipo as part of a political game.
“Sinn Féin won’t be playing Leo Vardakar and Fine Gael’s games at a time when people can’t afford to put food on their tables or pay extortionate rents to put a roof over their heads. This nonsense shows how out of touch these people are.”