Ahern's funding move against Sinn Féin
BY MÍCHEÁl MacDONNCHA
In an attempt to target contributions to Sinn Féin, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has announced plans to ban `foreign' fundraising by political parties in the 26 Counties. Announcing the proposals, Ahern said the government is ``studying whether ring-fencing Irish political fundraising will include reciprocal arrangements with the United Kingdom''.
Ahern's proposed ban would mean that contributions could not come from outside the 26 Counties. This would obviously affect Sinn Féin as the only all-Ireland party and as a party which enjoys widespread support among Irish exiles. Other proposals from the Taoiseach include limiting donations to a party from any one source to £20,000 in one year and to a candidate to £5,000 in one year. Clearly this would not end corporate funding of the big parties.
This plan would disenfranchise Irish emigrants and members of the Irish diaspora around the world as well as Irish citizens in the Six Counties
Responding to the Ahern plan, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said:
``While Sinn Féin welcomes aspects of the proposed anti-corruption plans the proposals on foreign fund-raising smack of political opportunism from two government parties running scared of the increasing support enjoyed by Sinn Féin.
``Sinn Féin has spoken out strongly against the corruption which has permeated political and business life in Ireland for decades. It is a scandal that parties have been bankrolled by banks and other financial institutions and by big business. Such a relationship has not just bought individual votes in council chambers; it has ensured government policies that favour big business above all else, with banks free to fleece their customers and with the lowest corporation tax in Europe.
``But attempts to link this issue to that of foreign fund-raising has nothing to do with the Taoiseach's stated concern for an even playing pitch in Irish politics. It has all to do with the growth of Sinn Féin.
``The effect of the Taoiseach's plan would be to set back efforts to create an even playing pitch in Irish politics and is entirely at odds with the all Ireland dimension of the Good Friday Agreement.
``It would disenfranchise Irish emigrants and members of the Irish diaspora around the world as well as Irish citizens in the Six Counties. Am I, as a President of Sinn Féin who happens to reside in Belfast, now to be prohibited from donating to my own party?
``The Taoiseach states that control and transparency of political donations from abroad would be impossible. The very opposite is the case. The Friends of Sinn Féin organisation in the USA have shown how this can be achieved. They file a record of all monies collected, the names and addresses of each donation of $50 or more, and an account of all expenditures, including amounts remitted to Ireland recorded with the US Justice Department every six months.
``The government's proposal would deny Irish emigrants, already denied the opportunity to vote, and members of the Irish diaspora in the United States the right to contribute to the political party of their choice. While this would affect other parties, for example the SDLP, it is clearly aimed at Sinn Féin.
That the government is studying whether ring-fencing Irish political fund-raising will include arrangements with the British government is particularly reprehensible.
``Sinn Féin is committed to bringing about fundamental social and economic change in Ireland. We are not involved in politics for economic or personal gain. Indeed within our own party we operate on an egalitarian basis all of our elected representatives, MPs, TD, ministers and Assembly members receive the same subsidy and donate the remainder of their salary to the party.
``The government talk a lot about the need to encourage the participation of the Irish Diaspora in the political, economic and social life of the Irish nation.
These proposals are entirely at odds with such an objective.
``I feel personally insulted that these anti Sinn Féin proposals should be introduced under the guise of dealing with corruption in public life.''
Speaking on RTÉ radio on Monday, Bertie Ahern suggested that Gerry Adams had not been following the debate on party funding in the 26 Counties. In response to this, Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:
``As someone who was directly involved in the debate and who fully briefed my party on it I share Gerry Adams' anger at the government's approach and his view that the attempted restriction of donations from outside this State is a piece of political opportunism aimed at Sinn Féin.
``Proposals to restrict donations to registered voters in the 26 Counties were contained in the Labour Party Bill which was debated in the Dáil in May. At that time I supported a government amendment on the basis that there would be a process of consultation with all the parties, including Sinn Féin, on the issue of donations to political parties. No such process of consultation has taken place.
``As I stated in the Dáil I am in favour of ending corporate donations to political parties. While the Taoiseach's statement contains no proposal to end corporate donations - companies are to be allowed to give up to £20,000 in one year to a political party - it does propose banning donations from outside the State, no matter how small. This discriminates against Irish citizens and is specifically aimed at Sinn Féin, the only All-Ireland party. Despite such moves I am confident that the growth in support for Sinn Fein will continue unabated.''