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Labour in U-turn on political donations

LABOUR last night publicly backed the forthcoming ban on trade union donations to political parties -- despite campaigning against it while in opposition.

Last year, the party said it was opposed to plans by then Environment Minister John Gormley to halt the political donations -- which account for around 5pc of its turnover.

But Tanaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore announced a U-turn by his party in the Dail last night -- and subsequently was backed by senior party figures.

The party's deputy leader, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, said there were strong links with the trade unions who had founded the party. But she said Labour had always been "absolutely open" to reviewing trade union contributions.

"If that's what the legislation requires, I'm not aware of anyone in the Labour Party who has a problem with that," she added.

The Government made a commitment to ban corporate donations, but it was confirmed for the first time yesterday by Mr Gilmore that this would include money from unions.

"Donations from trade unions will be included in that legislation. They will be treated as corporate donations," he said.

Labour's Dublin North-East TD Tommy Broughan said yesterday the funding provided by trade unions to Labour was "small enough" -- as little as €13,000 annually from SIPTU in recent years.

"I think it would be over-estimated to a large extent," he said.

It is expected the legislation will be brought in by the end of this year. The decision will affect unions like SIPTU and the Irish National Teachers Organisation, which each provided a €2,500 allowance to members running for election to the Dail.

The move means all politicians will have to rely on raising personal donations.


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But there was little sign of dissent in Labour about the move, with another TD saying privately that the €2,500 he received from SIPTU at election time was less than the sum he paid in membership fees.

Mr Broughan said it would be difficult for a person starting out in politics to raise the €10,000-€15,000 needed for an election campaign.

"It's still the price of a good car. You get around €8,700 back once you meet one quarter of the quota, but politics is an expensive business," he said.

SIPTU confirmed that it provided an allowance of €2,500 to members running in the general election.

A spokesman said not all of the 16 or so Labour TDs entitled to claim it had done so, adding that SIPTU would comply with the legislation being brought in.

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