Thursday 30 March 2017

One of the country's wealthiest businessmen has been funding the Social Democrats

Grafton Group chairman pumped thousands into fledgling party

PARTY FOUNDERS: Roisin Shortall, Stephen Donnelly and Catherine Murphy all received donations from Chadwick
PARTY FOUNDERS: Roisin Shortall, Stephen Donnelly and Catherine Murphy all received donations from Chadwick
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

One of the country's wealthiest businessmen has been funding the Social Democrats, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Michael Chadwick, the non-executive chairman of construction supplies giant the Grafton Group, has pumped €21,000 into the fledgling party since it was established last year.

Mr Chadwick, who is worth an estimated €208m, has donated personally to the political campaigns of the three founding members - Catherine Murphy, Roisin Shortall and Stephen Donnelly.

He also made the maximum donations possible under strict Standards in Public Office (Sipo) rules to the party, and personally to all of the Social Democrats' candidates in the recent General Election.

Mr Chadwick made his fortune from his family-owned building materials company, which amassed huge profits during the property boom.

He managed to steer the Grafton Group, which is worth an estimated €2bn, through the worst of the recession and the international company is currently thriving.

The businessman made donations totalling €21,000 in a personal capacity rather than on behalf of the Grafton Group.

Mr Chadwick, who is due to retire from the company at the end of the year, was ranked 67th on the Sunday Independent 2016 Rich List.

The three founding members of the Social Democrats received €2,000 each from the businessman over the past two years.

Mr Chadwick made two donations of €2,500 this year and last year directly to the party, which is again the largest possible contribution permitted under law.

Each of the party's 10 other unsuccessful election candidates were also given €1,000 by the tycoon.

The Sunday Independent understands that former Limerick Senator James Heffernan also made a significant personal contribution of €16,000 to the party.

When a series of questions were put to the Social Democrats about the donations, a spokeswoman responded: "All donations received were given in a personal capacity and have been declared to Sipo in accordance with the regulations set out for political donations."

However, when it was pointed out that such a limited response was not in line with the party's stance on transparency in public office, full details of Mr Chadwick's donations were provided.

"All donations received in 2015 were declared to Sipo. According to Sipo unsuccessful candidates were required to submit details of donations by April 22, 2015, and all have done so. Successful candidates will submit details to Sipo at the end of 2016 as per the Sipo stipulations," a spokeswoman said.

"The party, as per Sipo regulations, will make the required returns at the end of 2016 as required by Sipo regulations," she added.

Mr Chadwick declined to comment on the donations.

It is understood Sipo will publish details in the coming weeks of donations received by candidates in the recent General Election.

Individual and party donations will be published later in the year.

All politicians are required to publish annually details of donations they have received.

The Social Democrats are also due to receive State funding for political parties after returning three TDs in the General Election and securing 3pc of the national vote.

With a government set to be formed in the coming week, the Social Democrats have decided to remain in opposition for the duration of the next Dail term and have turned down offers to enter government with Fine Gael.

However, the party insists they will be constructive in opposition.

The Labour Party is seeking to form a left-of-centre alliance with the Social Democrats and the Green Party in opposition. However, last week, Mr Donnelly insisted the party will not do business with Labour.

There are no public records showing Mr Chadwick previously donating to political parties and it is unclear why he chose to back the party.

The Sandymount-based businessman is due to step down from the Grafton Group at the end of the year.

He was appointed to the board in 1979 and served as executive chairman from 1985 to 2011, when he became non-executive chairman.

On announcing his retirement, Grafton Group chief executive Gavin Slark praised Mr Chadwick's "entrepreneurial leadership" and "outstanding stewardship" of the board.

"The board greatly appreciates that Michael Chadwick has agreed to remain as non-executive chairman until the end of the year, which will allow for a smooth transition," Mr Slark said.

Sunday Independent

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