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Coalition leaders were briefed by Paschal Donohoe at weekend about Michael Stone statement but weren’t aware he would resign from State boards - Taoiseach

  • Public Expenditure Minister made second statement in Dáil this afternoon about his election expenses
  • Mr Donohoe says statement he previously made “was honest reflection of the information I had”
  • Sinn Féín accuses Mr Donohoe of ‘reverse-engineering’ the facts

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Paschal Donohoe

Paschal Donohoe

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Gareth Chaney

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Paschal Donohoe

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has revealed how Paschal Donhoe told coalition leaders over the weekend that Michael Stone was going to issue a statement about his involvement in the minister’s 2020 General Election campaign.

However the Taoiseach said Mr Stone’s resignation from the Land Development Agency and the North Inner City Taskforce “wasn’t definite at that point.”

Mr Varadkar told reporters at the IFA annual general meeting this evening that he is standing by the Public Expenditure Minister after he made a statement in the Dáil earlier today concerning his controversial election expenses.

“I think at this stage it really boils down to whether you believe him or not. And I do believe him,” said Mr Varadkar.

The Taoiseach said his cabinet colleague simply assumed that the posters were being put up voluntarily “because all the other posters were being put up on that basis.”

“He learned over the last couple of weeks that wasn't the case - that some people, third parties, were paid to do it, and there was also the use of a company van, and that has required Paschal to amend his accounts, and that is allowed. That's provided for in legislation, if you discover new information down the line,” he said.

But he stressed that Mr Donohoe hasn’t done anything wrong.

“What he certainly hasn't done is broken any spending limits and we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the reason why we have many of these laws in place, is to make sure that we have a fair playing field and that people can't use huge amounts of money to win elections in the way to do in other countries. And certainly that's not the case here,” he said.

He added that the matter “shouldn't be decided in the political partisan chamber, which is the Dáil,” but by the Standards in Public Office Commission or Sipo, which he said will be given new powers and strengthened by the end of this year.

“A complaint has been received, they're looking into it. And I think we should now move on and allow the standards commission to do its work, and talk about the issues that people are really interested in, like the cost of living, like the health service, like housing, like what we can do to make rural Ireland a better place.”

He revealed that he knew at the weekend that Michael Stone was going to make a statement explaining his role and “that Paschal would that make a statement in the Dáil thereafter”.

However he said he wasn’t aware that the businessman would announce his resignation from the LDA and the North East Inner City Task Force.

“So, you know, I was aware of the sequence of events and what was going to happen,” he said, adding Mr Stone’s resignation “wasn’t definite at that point, but I was broadly aware of what was going to happen.”

Earlier, Paschal Donohoe told the Dáil he would partially repay businessman Michael Stone for his campaign contribution three years ago.

Blaming his benefactor for repeatedly failing to recall aid given to him at the 2020 general election, the minister told the Dáil: “There was some recollection by my team of support being provided by Michael Stone in 2020.

“But despite my asking directly a couple of times, Mr Stone’s view was that he had not provided any support three years ago.

“This was confirmed to me on more than one occasion.”

On Wednesday night of last week, after his first Dáil statement, Mr Donohoe said he received a call from Michael Stone.

He said a member of his team had recalled “support being provided in 2020 through the campaign team.”

This prompted the call, and Mr Stone had provided the details of the support provided in his statement earlier today, he said.

“I was unaware of any of these details prior to Wednesday night.”

Despite his best efforts in recent weeks to ensure that the “fullest account” of the support given in both 2016 and 2020 was accurate, a new filing would now have to be made for the 2020 general election, he said.

It would reflect “the new information to the amount of €864 for labour and €392.20 for vehicles for support received during the election period”.

Mr Donohoe said he was now aware “that an unauthorised corporate donation of €434.20 was unknowingly received by Fine Gael Dublin Central”.

This was in the form of the use of vehicles, the commercial value of which exceeded the maximum allowable donation limit of €200, he said.

“Sipo (Standards in Public Office Commission) have been notified of this breach and €234.20, the amount received in excess of the allowable limit, will be refunded to the Designer Group,” he said.

An amendment will also be made to the value of €1,256.20 for the work carried out and use of the vans up to polling day, he said.

He said he was aiming to be “fully transparent on all details.” The statement he previously made “was an honest reflection of the information I had”.

When Sipo returns were submitted in both in 2016 and 2020, they were believed to be accurate, he said.

“Any postering done throughout the campaigns was not paid for by Fine Gael Dublin Central nor by me,” he said.

“All activity, it was understood, was carried out by volunteers on a voluntary basis.”

Mr Donohoe added: “Let me be clear. Neither I nor my team were aware of any payments to any individuals for the erection or removal of posters in either election at the time of filing election returns.

“The vast majority of my posters were erected and taken down on a voluntary basis. This was, we believed, the case with regard to the support given by Michael Stone.

“Having undertaken reviews designed to determine the full facts, we have always taken the appropriate steps to correct the record.”

Mr Stone’ s statement “represents his best and fullest recollection of events”, he said.

“Since Thursday, I have been working to ensure that the information regarding the 2020 general election is completely accurate.

“I have informed the Dáil of the facts as I have known them to be true at each and every juncture.

“I again apologise for the difficulties this has caused for my party and the distraction it has caused to the important work of government.

“I have always sought to hold myself, and those around me, to the highest standards.

“Finally, I would like to say that I deeply regret that this has caused the loss of Michael Stone from the boards of both the Land Development Agency and the North East Inner City Taskforce,” Mr Donohoe added.

“Mr Stone has given his time freely in an attempt to make a difference to the lives of those faced with significant challenges.

“His experience will be a great loss to both.”

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Michael Stone. Photo: Damien Eagers

Michael Stone. Photo: Damien Eagers

Michael Stone. Photo: Damien Eagers

Sinn Féin spokesman on Finance, Pearse Doherty, accused Mr Donohoe of reverse-engineering the facts on his campaign donations.

Mr Donohoe said what was being discussed was “an inadvertent donation” which was being remedied with Sipo, but it actually referred to postering, which he had assumed was being done on a voluntary basis.

Mr Doherty said the minister had previously claimed in November to have carried out a review of his 2016 expenses and found everything to be in order. He said the issue of a supplied van had been raised as far back as 2017.

Mr Donohoe said he had assumed that all posters had been put up on a voluntary basis, but in 2017 “I should have amended my electoral expenses at that time to take account of the use of a commercial van that had at the time a value of €140”.

The Sinn Féin spokesman asked how many posters had been put up in 2016 and 2020 for Mr Donohoe as a Fine Gael candidate.

The minister said his “key mistake” was assuming it was all done on a voluntary basis. He had not been able to determine how many posters had been put up, he said.

He told Mr Doherty: “I don’t know whether you are interested in my answers, or my head.”

Mr Doherty said the cover-up had been going on for weeks, and was interrupted by the Ceann Comhairle who said he should not shout down the minister in his answer.

Ged Nash of the Labour Party said: “Standards matter, accountability matters. Ethics matter, and full disclosure matters. I believe that integrity matters to you too.”

He said it gave him no pleasure to say Mr Donohoe had broken the electoral rules on two occasions and “third chances don’t come around very often in politics”, which was why he should give clear answers.

There was a fantasy that the donations were made to Fine Gael in Dublin Central, and not to Mr Donohoe personally, “the face on the poster”, he said.

He said if he had been the second candidate for Fine Gael in Dublin Central, he would be really annoyed, because they had not benefitted.

A Fine Gael councillor for the inner city, Ray McAdam, had received the postering, Mr Donohoe said.

“At no point was money received,” he added.

Sipo was the appropriate adjudicator and he would be co-operating fully, he said.

Mr Nash said the “fiction” that the donation was to the party meant that the returns of the second Fine Gael candidate may have to be revised.

Mr Donohoe, wearing a blue tie over a white shirt, said he would “make any information available” that he could to Sipo.

Assuming there was no difficulty with that engagement, he would make it more widely available, he said.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said the key matter was how the issue was responded to when raised and the minister had “made of hames of this”. 

It was a charitable interpretation, she said, and very revealing that he “thought” it was being done on a voluntary basis when it involved commercial vans and “teams of guys in high-vis jackets”.

“Ignorance of he law of course is no defence,” Ms Shortall added.

She asked if the minister was not familiar with the returns that all TDs had to make each year. The form involved was perfectly clear, she said, and he had responsibility for the ethics legislation.

Mr Donohoe said Sipo would adjudicate on the matter overall and any sanction that applied. Not knowing was not a defence, he granted, but there had to be proportionality. He was carrying out national duties, and on behalf of his party, at the time, he said. With the vast amount of postering being voluntary, it could be expected that he would assume a small amount of other postering to also fall into the same category.

Mr Donohoe said he was “refunding back” the value of the use of the van.

Ms Shortall echoed Mr Doherty in saying Mr Donohoe was engaged in “reverse -engineering” of what took place.

Paul Murphy of People Before Profit asked if Mr Stone had helped in the 2019 local and European elections. Mr Donohoe replied: “No.”

Mr Murphy said that the subsequent donations then “look like donations to you, not to Fine Gael”. Mr Donohoe said the donations were to Fine Gael in Dublin Central.

There had also been donations “to the national party” through the sale of Fine Gael Super Draw tickets to Mr Stone in 2020 and 2021 which came to more than €1,700, he said.

Mr Murphy said: “When you begin to tell untruths, you trip yourself up, minister.”

Mr Donohoe said the benefits to him fell below the maximum personal donation to an individual.

“You are landing Fine Gael in it with your untruths,” Mr Murphy said.


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