Tuesday 20 March 2018

Extraordinary sums collected by party branches revealed for first time

Environment Minister Phil Hogan
Environment Minister Phil Hogan

Niall O’Connor Political Correspondent

A row between a political standards watchdog and Environment Minister Phil Hogan has lifted the lid on the financial health of the main political parties.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) has taken the unprecedented step of publishing details of the massive sums lodged to bank accounts of party branches.

SIPO has revealed that the wealthiest branches within Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail combined took in more than €1.5m over two years.

Only branches which had bank balances of €2,500 or more and which took in more than €10,000 in a single year were included in the figures.

Thirty-three branches in Fine Gael took in more than €1m between them in 2011 and 2012, followed by Fianna Fail, where the 15 wealthiest branches took in more than €325,000.

Sinn Fein was not included because the party filed no “evidence” that any its branches had balances of €2,500 or more.

This is despite the huge amounts received by the party through its fundraising drive in the United States.

SIPO revealed that in the 2011 general election year, 17 Fine Gael branches took in €658,000.

In the same year, eight Fianna Fail branches took in €162,000, and five Labour branches lodged €164,000.

The finances of individual branches are filed to SIPO every year. However, the information has never been made public.

But the decision to do so now has put SIPO chairman Mr Justice Matthew P Smith on a collision course with Environment Minister Phil Hogan, the Irish Independent has learned.

Mr Hogan (pictured) is furious at the move, which he believes was “out of order” and “crossed the line”.

The publication the accounts follows Mr

Hogan's rejection on legal grounds of new SIPO guidelines on party finances – sparking the unprecedented response by the watchdog.

In a letter this week, Mr Justice Smith said he is “extremely disappointed” with the decision to reject the guidelines.

Mr Justice Smith emphasised that an accurate picture of the accounts of the three parties could only be achieved if individual branches were brought into the frame.

A source close to the Minister said last night that SIPO had “completely overstepped the mark”.

“It's quite clear SIPO have done this because they aren't happy with the response they received but what they have done has completely overstepped the mark and it is regrettable.”

SIPO sources have insisted that the information was revealed to show Mr Hogan and the public the scale of the money taken in by party branches.

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