Republican News · Thursday 25 May 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Labour worries at rise of Sinn Féin

``Ban corporate donations'' - O Caoláin

Labour leader Ruairi Quinn is trying to emulate his predecessor Dick Spring in posing as the White Knight of Leinster House battling against Fianna Fáil corruption. This was how Labour's bill on political party funding was presented in the Dáil last week, but the bill had another purpose which received little media attention. This was to end all funding for parties from outside the 26 Counties and to confine donations to registered voters.

Clearly the party is deeply worried at the electoral rise of Sinn Féin. We carry here Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin's Dáil speech on the Labour bill.

``The stated intent of the bill is to ban corporate donations to political parties. I support that intent. However, I cannot support the means proposed to achieve it. The core of the bill is the provision to restrict donations to those from registered voters. In moving the bill, Deputies Quinn and Gilmore made clear that one of its purposes was to ban donations from people outside Ireland. Deputy Quinn referred to ``the continued distortion in the political process caused by overseas fundraising.''

Deputy Gilmore spoke in similar terms. Blinded by their obvious concern at the advances achieved and projected for Sinn Féin, the proposers of this legislation have apparently lost sight of their stated objective. It is supposed to target corporate donations and that is how it has been presented in the media.

It also proposes to ban donations from overseas. This is a separate and distinct issue but it is included here apparently in the belief that the banning of such donations would damage Sinn Féin.

I totally reject the assertion that donations to Sinn Féin or any other party, including the Labour Party, which has not been so successful in this regard, by people in the US or elsewhere distort the political process. It is well known that Sinn Féin raises considerable funds in the US, Australia and elsewhere. We do so in the US under the most rigorous regulations.

The Friends of Sinn Féin organisation must 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 with the US Justice Department every six months.

This Bill would deny Irish emigrants, already denied the opportunity to vote, and members of the Irish diaspora in the US the right to contribute to the political party of their choice. These are not corporate donations. By definition, the donors cannot have any vested interest or hope of personal advantage in contributing to Sinn Féin. The vast majority of such donations are small sums from supporters of the party's peace strategy.

Many are from people who had to emigrate from this country in the 1980s, young people at that time denied a future because of the gross mismanagement of the economy and endemic unemployment. It was the absence of that and previous generations of young people which, to adapt the words of Deputy Quinn, distorted the political process.

Corporate funding of political parties needs to be stopped. It is

scandalous that parties have been bankrolled by banks and other financial institutions and big business. Such a relationship has not just bought individual votes in council chambers, it has ensured government policies which favour big business above all else, with banks free to fleece their customers and with the lowest corporation tax in Europe.

The bill, however, as presented, is deeply flawed. I cannot support its central provision, which confines donations to registered voters only. The absurdity of it is that my party leader could not make a contribution to my campaign at the next general election. It is absolutely ludicrous. The legislation needs to be reshaped. The commitment in the government amendment to comprehensively address the issue and to introduce considered legislation before the year is out is both welcome and worthy of support.

Having clearly stated my support for legislation which will end the corporate funding of political parties, I look forward to the consultative process to be undertaken by the as yet to be appointed all-party committee, the report of which will be available by 30 September. We will then have the opportunity to examine fully comprehensive legislation, hopefully, through the efforts of all parties in this House, including Sinn Féin.

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