Twenty politicians returned party donations last year

Twenty politicians including Taoiseach Micheál Martin and other senior ministers returned donations made to them by their political parties because they had not been registered as corporate donors.

More than €20,000 was returned to Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and Fine Gael according to the Standards in Public Office Commission’s (Sipo) report on donations in 2020, the year of the last general election.

Other politicians, including Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, returned sums to companies that had made donations to them.

Ms McEntee returned €4,000 after a “misunderstanding” in her office over the allowable limits was discovered.

Overall, donations with a total value of €92,454 were disclosed by politicians for 2020. When returned donations are taken into account, the net total for donations received was €64,875.

This was an increase from the 2019 equivalent figure, which was €13,645. 

Sipo said the general election held in February 2020 was the likely reason for the increase in the value of donations disclosed.  

There is an annual €200 limit on the sum a TD or Senator can receive from an unregistered corporate donor.

The limit goes up to €1,000 if the organisation is registered and individuals can donate the same amount in a given year.

Political parties must register as a corporate donor with Sipo before making a donation of more than €200 to a politician.

Sipo said that where a donation in excess of €200 was received from an unregistered corporate donor, the politician must either return the donation or the part in excess over €200 to the donor, or remit the donation to the commission. 

Mr Martin and his constituency colleague Michael McGrath both got a €1,000 donations from Fianna Fáil in Cork South Central and each of them returned €800.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien returned €800 of a €1,000 donation he got from Fianna Fáil in Dublin Fingal.

Minister of State James Browne gave back a combined €1,850 to two branches of Fianna Fáil in his Wexford constituency.

A spokeswoman for Fianna Fáil said once the issue was brought to its attention by Sipo “we took steps to resolve the matter”.

She said: “We have registered the party and its branches as a corporate donor to make such payments.

“Sipo confirmed that all steps taken ensured our compliance with the necessary regulations.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan returned €800 of a €1,000 donation he got to the Green Party in Dublin Bay South while deputy leader Catherine Martin returned €480 of a €680 donation from the party in Dublin Rathdown.

Ministers Roderic O’Gorman, Joe O’Brien, Malcolm Noonan and Pippa Hackett returned €800 each to the party.

A Green Party spokeswoman said it had corporate donor status for 2021 and was submitting an application for status on 2022.

She said: “The previous issue arose from a misinterpretation by the party of the guidelines and Sipo provided a legal ruling in 2021 on the matter.

“Our representatives responded without delay and made the appropriate refunds to the party.”

Minister of State Frank Feighan returned €800 to the Carrick-on-Shannon branch of Fine Gael.

Senator Aisling Dolan gave back €4,593 to Fine Gael in the Roscommon-Galway constituency.

A Fine Gael spokeswoman said that in both of these cases the local branches gave the politicians funds to pay campaign invoices.

The bills should have been paid from the local branches to the suppliers directly and both Mr Feighan and Ms Dolan returned the funds in excess of of the donation limits back to the branches as per Sipo recommendations.

Meath East TD and Minister Helen McEntee got donations of €1,400 from three organisations – Ashbourne Visitor Centre, Ashbourne Oil Company and Irish Bison Ltd and returned €1,200 to each of them.

A spokesman for Ms McEntee said: “There was a misunderstanding in the Minister’s constituency office about the allowable donation limits for unregistered companies. Once this was discovered it was immediately rectified.

“Following further examination, a further €400 was returned to ensure the Minister is compliant with the letter and the spirit of the rules.”

Fianna Fáil Longford-Westmeath TD Joe Flaherty returned €1,005 of a €2,005 donation to his brother Declan O’Flaherty and his party colleague Carlow-Kilkenny TD Jennifer Murnane-O’Connor returned €800 of a €1,000 donation to a company called Plazamount.

Mr Flaherty said: “Declan O’Flaherty is my brother and paid for a billboard campaign during the campaign [to the sum of] €2,004.90.

“When post election campaign, I realised the amount was in excess of the permitted €1,000 donation amount, I returned €1004.90.”

He said he had provided a full explanation to Sipo.

Kerry Sinn Féin TD Pa Daly returned the full €652 donation he received from a company called EF Signs.

Mr Daly said he returned the sum as the business was not a registered donor.

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