Donation row hints at deeper cronyism scandal

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Ireland’s Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe is under pressure to resign after it emerged he violated election law over donations and concealed it for years.

The Fine Gael party suffered a double blow over the Christmas break, soon after party leader Leo Varadkar succeeded Fianna Fáil’s Micheal Martin in the top job as part of their 2020 coalition deal.

Last week a junior Fine Gael minister, Damien English, resigned from his post after admitting he had concealed ownership of a property on planning applications and government conflict-of-interest forms. The government has refused to let the opposition question English, who remains a TD in the Leinster House parliament.

On Wednesday, the government alson rejected opposition demands to be allowed to question Donohoe, who instead sat silently through blistering opposition attacks.

“Minister Donohoe cannot escape the fact that he broke the rules by receiving this donation, and since then concocted a story that has changed so many times that his credibility lies in tatters,” said Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

His ties to construction firm chief Michael Stone, a friend later appointed to two government posts, are at the heart of the accusations. The donation itself, which Donohoe insists amounted to just €1,240, is above legal limits, although the Minister has claimed the money can be broken down and attributed in a manner which complies with the law.

In this regard, Donohoe claimed Stone had paid six of his construction employees a total of €1,100 — equivalent to just €183 each — for four days’ work erecting and taking down election posters in his Dublin Central district, where he faced a battle against the Sinn Féin President.

Several TDs said the figures for the postering work were suspiciously low, noting that their own similar contracted work for posters cost nearer €5,000.

Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats, ridiculed the torturous calculations as the work of “a minister for finance who can’t keep track of his election donations and expenses.”

“You seem to have gotten the deal of the century, I have to say,” she told Donohoe across the floor, describing his unrecorded figures as “terribly convenient.”

Even so, she said, Donohoe remained legally obliged to make market-value declarations of costs.

Donohoe later admitted Stone made two other donations worth €1,716 to Fine Gael, in addition to the postering services he donated during the 2016 General Election campaign.

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD reiterated his call on all parties, to carry out an audit of their TDs. “You can’t be a lawmaker and a lawbreaker at the same time,” he said.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty accused the Minister of trying to cover up his failure to register the donation by “concocting a story that does not stack up”.

He said the law was clear that expenses that were incurred on candidates’ behalf had to attributed to the candidate and not to the party.

The Minister was now trying to “reverse engineer” the payments to ensure they came in at below the allowable limits, he said.

Mr Doherty noted that another candidate in the constituency, Mary Fitzpatrick, had paid €5,000 to erect, and remove, posters. He said the rate of pay suggested the workers were “climbing up two poles per hour”.

“It is laughable what you are trying to do. You are taking us for fools,” he said.

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