Monday 24 July 2017

Revealed: Corporate donations the parties didn’t tell you about

- €500,000 handed over in past decade
- Sum may be just tip of the iceberg

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

POLITICAL parties raked in hundreds of thousands of euro in corporate donations that they never publicly declared, an Irish Independent investigation can reveal.

An examination of the company records of just a small number of leading firms over the past decade shows they gave the parties almost €500,000 that was never made public.

The undeclared cash amounted to two-thirds of all the money donated by big businesses, including developers, hoteliers and car dealers.

The investigation sheds light on the fundamental flaws in the disclosure system that has allowed Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and other parties to receive tens of thousands of euro while legitimately being able to hide the full extent of the largesse of their corporate backers.

The Irish Independent has obtained details of contributions from just nine corporate donors, suggesting the level of undeclared donations we have uncovered may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Despite Fine Gael not declaring a single corporate donation to the party under Taoiseach Enda Kenny's leadership, our probe shows it did receive funding from property developers and big business.

Company records show Fine Gael received €66,000 from a handful of donors, with none of this declared by the party and only €8,000 declared by individual politicians.

And Fianna Fail's links to builders and developers during the boom years are highlighted by the party being given almost €300,000 from the construction firms whose donations were examined by the Irish Independent.

Just €78,700 of this had to be declared.

The Irish Independent investigation shows the urgent need for legislation that Environment Minister Phil Hogan has published, which will all but prohibit corporate donations of over €200.

However, his legislation will still allow wealthy businessmen to personally donate up to €7,500 to a party between general elections without being identified as a donor.

The Irish Independent has found that €725,000 in donations from 2001 to 2010 recorded by the companies we have examined, with just €228,000 of this disclosed to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) by the political parties.

The donations include €212,000 from Harcourt Developments and its subsidiary Airscape between 2001 and 2010 shared between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the PDs. Just €20,000 of this was disclosed to SIPO.

Other Celtic Tiger developers and related companies that have made significant cash contributions include:

- Ballymore Group, which gave donations totalling €114,000, but only €22,000 of this was disclosed to SIPO.

- Durkan New Homes, which donated €85,000 to Fianna Fail, of which only €20,000 was declared to SIPO.

- Treasury Holdings and its subsidiaries/directors, who donated €135,000, of which €120,000 was disclosed to SIPO.

Other corporate donors include Renault dealer and TV's 'Apprentice' boss Bill Cullen whose former company gave €60,000 to Fianna Fail, of which the party declared less than half.

Hospitality chain O'Callaghan Hotels donated €54,000 to various parties through its company Persian Properties and other donations from its director Noel O'Callaghan, of which just €8,000 was disclosed.

Our investigation also found €31,000 in donations from Morgan Fuels run by convicted cross-border smuggler Hugh Morgan, whose claims that he donated €5,000 to Fianna Fail through Sean Gallagher effectively ended the Independent candidate's campaign despite Mr Gallagher's repeated denial that he handled any such cheque.

Mosney PLC, the company which runs the refugee reception centre at the site of the former Co Meath holiday resort, donated just under €20,000 to various parties over three years, with a quarter of this being disclosed by the political parties.

Contributions

And food giant Glanbia donated €11,000 to the pro-Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign in 2009, including €5,000 to Fianna Fail.

Asked about their donations, a spokesman for Ballymore Group said "the donations were small and across all parties" .

He said: "Cumulatively, the total figure might look big but this could have been made up of more than a dozen local contributions."

He confirmed that the company and its subsidiaries had not donated since 2010.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Bill Cullen said that his Glencullen Group "had made donations to all political parties and some Independents".

He said the amounts given had always complied with SIPO limits.

Durkan New Homes' spokesman said: "We won't be commenting."

Glanbia confirmed that it donated to the 'Yes' side in both the Nice and Lisbon referenda and said they have made no political donations since 2010.

None of the other corporate donors responded to the Irish Independent's questions over the last week.

In December, Mr Hogan announced new legislation on donations to political parties which is expected to pass into law in the next two months.

Irish Independent

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