FINE Gael is ramping up pressure on Sinn Féin over a controversial donation of around €4m that the rival party registered in the UK.
Leo Varadkar's party has called for new powers to be given to the State watchdog so that it can crack down on what it claims is Sinn Féin’s exploitation of a loophole on political donations.
Sinn Féin has claimed the Fine Gael move is a bid to distract from the ‘leak’ controversy surrounding Mr Varadkar, and insisted it complies with “all legal requirements” on both sides of the Border.
Mr Varadkar faces a Dáil vote on a motion of no confidence in him brought by Sinn Féin tomorrow night.
Now it has emerged that Fine Gael will use private members’ time in the Seanad on Wednesday to put pressure on Sinn Féin over the €4m donation which was left to Sinn Féin in a will by deceased English millionaire William Hampton.
Sinn Féin registered the donation with the UK’s Electoral Commission.
Under Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) rules, parties cannot accept a donation of any value from someone who lives outside of the island of Ireland, unless they are an Irish citizen.
Permitted donations are capped at €2,500 in any one calendar year.
Sinn Féin has said none of the money left by Mr Hampton will be spent in the Republic but Fine Gael wants Sipo's oversight powers to be expanded to cover donations from outside the jurisdiction.
Fine Gael's Seanad motion says that Mr Hampton's will “specifically states that the
donation is for “the political party in the Republic of Ireland known at this time as Sinn Fein”.
It asks the Seanad to note concern that the acceptance of this donation by Sinn Féin is “deeply problematic and at best is at variance with the spirt of Irish electoral law.”
It also expresses concern "that there appears no meaningful manner to ensure that research, social media and political staff funded in Northern Ireland by this donation is not employed in this jurisdiction.”
The motion, tabled by Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward and party colleagues calls on Sinn Féin to “immediately return the amount of the donation in excess of the limit of €2,500 to the Estate of William Hampton.”
It also demands that the party “lay a statement before the Seanad no later than the 31st of
December 2020 outlining how it will ensure that no resources funded by its operations in Northern Ireland are utilised in this jurisdiction.”
And it calls on the Government to update the Electoral Laws to ensure that if a political party is registered in this State and in another jurisdiction, that registration here requires that it accepts no donation greater than those allowable under Sipo guidelines.
It calls on the Government to expand Sipo’s remit to cover such matters.
And it requests that Sipo furnishes a report to the Seanad by December 31 outlining how it will ensure that no resources funded by Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland are utilised in any way in the South.
On Sunday Sinn Féin has said it is “lawfully obliged to register as a political party in both jurisdictions and to comply with relevant legislation and statutory regulations, north and south” and added: "This is a consequence of partition.”
The party inists it “meets all of its legal requirements".
It added: “We are in full compliance with the requirements of the Electoral Commission in the North and the Standards in Public Office Commission in the south have confirmed to us that this matter is closed.”
It said of the donation by Mr Hampton: “We have made it clear repeatedly that this donation will only be spent in the North. Fine Gael are well aware of all of this, but are attempting to distract from the serious issue surrounding the Fine Gael leader.”