Saturday 25 November 2017

Politicians waste garda time over party donations

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

POLITICAL parties are "wasting garda time" by failing to provide the state election watchdog with details of their political donations.

Their local branch officers are not returning the necessary forms and bank statements even though they have been supplied with a stamped addressed envelope -- which means a garda must physically call to the person's house to remind them.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC) complained yesterday that this was wasting garda time -- and was also breaking the electoral funding law passed by the Dail and Seanad.

It is set to refer some of the branch officers to the Director of Public Prosecutions. But even though this has also been done before, no prosecutions have been taken in recent years.

"It is a cause of concern to the Standards Commission that our major political parties do not seem to have much regard to an Act of the Oireachtas that sets out how donations to units of their parties are reported to the Standards Commission," it said.

SIPOC requires the bank statements from party branches to check that they do not have any suspicious lodgments which could be linked to political corruption.

The Green Party, which often declares that "clean politics is green politics", is the worst offender. Around 17 of the 32 branches which received political donations failed to return their forms and bank statements by the March 31 deadline.

A Green Party spokesman said it would be re-emphasising the importance of complying with the SIPOC requirement to all its branches.

Fine Gael is the next worst offender, with 16 branches out of a total of 47 failing to return their forms.

The next is Fianna Fail with 11 non-compliant branches, followed by the Labour Party (8), Sinn Fein (6) and the now defunct Progressive Democrats party (6). All political parties are required to provide the names of those who donate more than €5,078 every year.

According to new figures from SIPOC, the €76,000 of donations disclosed last year was the lowest since the requirement was introduced in 1997.

In total, the State gave a total of €13.6m to political parties last year so that they could pay for a variety of activities including administration, policy research and training. The State funding cannot be used for elections or referenda.

Fine Gael was the only party to spend some of its state funding on polling (€215,000) and it also spent the highest amount on public relations and consultancy (€337,000).

Labour spent almost €59,000 of its state funding in the area of "participation by women in politics" but Fianna Fail spent around €17,000 -- despite getting more than four times more funding.

The PDs received €47,223 but returned €37,385 of this sum to the Department of Finance.

Irish Independent

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