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Monday 19 March 2018

Noonan warned Kenny on corporate donations

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was warned against allowing Fine Gael to accept corporate donations when he took over as party leader from Michael Noonan.

Mr Kenny last night promised to "end the link between big business and politics" after Fine Gael's belated conversion to banning corporate donations.

But during his term as Fine Gael leader, the big business interests tapped for funds by the party included construction industry giants, CRH plc, Treasury Holdings, Sorohans Builders and O'Brien & O'Flynn. The party's fundraising was also supported by National Toll Roads plc and Musgraves, the owners of the Supervalu and Centra chains.

This was despite Mr Noonan, the current Finance Minister, banning corporate donations when he was Fine Gael leader in 2001.

But Fine Gael has never publicly stated the receipt of specific corporate donations during Mr Kenny's term in charge as all payments were less than the declaration threshold.

Only donations over €5,000 have to be declared to the State ethics watchdog, the Standards In Public Office Commission.

Mr Kenny yesterday pledged the Government would bring in laws to ban corporate donations "as early as we can". Although he is now making a virtue of this policy pledged by the coalition, Mr Kenny did not propose banning corporate donations in his political reform plans last year.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan said exactly a year ago that Fine Gael "agree with companies being able to support political parties to the limits that they have been up to now".

But the party suddenly changed its official policy during the election campaign following the lead of the rest of the political parties. Mr Kenny reversed Mr Noonan's ban on corporate donations when he took over as Fine Gael leader in 2002.

Mr Noonan was one of just three Fine Gael TDs to oppose Mr Kenny's move at the time when it was put forward at a party meeting in autumn 2002. Fine Gael sources said Mr Noonan's criticism of the move "soured" his relationship with Mr Kenny.

Mr Noonan was backed up by then newly-elected TDs John Deasy and Damien English.

Mr Deasy referred to his experience working in politics in the United States and the damaging effect of corporate donations, while Mr English argued that the image of accepting corporate donations was wrong, a party source said.

"After the general election, Noonan wasn't in a strong position to make a forceful case. Still, he argued that it wasn't the thing to do to go back to corporate donations," the source said. "Enda had a decision to make and he went back to the money. Now all of a sudden, he's a crusader and a reformer.

"He made the decision in 2002 that we were open for business in terms of taking donations."

Mr Kenny explained his decision to reverse the policy as he said he had conducted a report into reviving Fine Gael. "Unfortunately, to drive a modern political party does cost money." He said 90pc of the party's funding came from the sale of tickets for the national draw.

"From the point of view of being able to fight elections and being able to fight a very strong Fianna Fail party, Fine Gael had to fund itself and within legal constraints did that," he said.

Irish Independent

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