Wednesday 25 April 2018

Government reneges on pledge to outlaw corporate donations

Environment Minister Phil Hogan yesterday
Environment Minister Phil Hogan yesterday

Fionnan Sheahan and Colm Kelpie

Businesses will still be allowed to make donations to political parties, despite the Government's pre-election promises.

The Government last night reneged on its promise to ban corporate donations because the coalition partners got bad legal advice in opposition.

Contrary to the promises made by Fine Gael and Labour before the general election, Taoiseach Enda Kenny admitted the Attorney General advised the Government it couldn't bring in a blanket ban on corporate donations because it would result in "a serious constitutional challenge".

Environment Minister Phil Hogan said he would prefer to ban corporate donations outright. When pressed on whether his legal advice before the election was wrong, he replied: "It was a nuanced, grey area."

Mr Hogan has stopped short of an outright ban on corporate donations, saying it would raise constitutional issues for freedom of expression.

Instead, the minister significantly reduced the amount of money allowed to be donated to political parties and the thresholds for having to publicly declare them.

Mr Hogan published legislation to bring in the changes, with the key points of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 including:

•Reducing the limits on political donations that may be accepted from €6,348.69 to €2,500 by a political party and €2,539.48 to €1,000 by an individual politician.

•Reducing the thresholds for declaring donations from €5,078.95 to €1,500 by a party, and from €634.87 to €600 for an individual.

•A ban on parties accepting donations over €200 from all sources, other than from individuals, unless the body has been registered with the Standards in Public Office.

Funding to a party will also be halved unless 30pc of its general election candidates, rising to 40pc after seven years, are women.

Mr Hogan said he would have preferred to have fully barred funding from big business, even though he said last July he would oppose the then Government's plans to abolish corporate donations.

"But I was advised by the Attorney General that there were constitutional issues in relation to freedom of expression that didn't allow me to ban completely," he said.

The Programme for Government promised the "necessary legal and constitutional provisions" would be introduced to ban funding by companies.

Mr Hogan said the matter would be examined in the promised Constitutional Convention.

He added: "We could tie people up in a lot of administrative red tape if you were to ban it outright. What's the definition of putting a poster in the window?

"Is that a donation or a contribution to the political process even though it wasn't being charged for?

"All of those issues were taken into account which led to the restrictions, it's a very small figure compared to what it is now."

Mr Hogan said it would be up to the people to decide whether they wanted to elect women.

"We're deliberately setting out to improve the participation rate of women in politics. There is a difficulty there and I think it's unhealthy for democracy.

"We're setting out a very modest proposal, but a very ground-breaking proposal."

Irish Independent

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