Wednesday 21 March 2018

New rules on political donations are delayed

Environment Minister Phil Hogan
Environment Minister Phil Hogan
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

NEW guidelines for uncovering the full extent of donations and election spending of political parties will not be in place until after the next general election.

Even if agreement is reached between the Government and the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) about introducing more transparency, they will not be in force until at least June 2016.

The revelation came as Environment Minister Phil Hogan and SIPO remained locked in a row over whether the commission has the power to oblige local branches of political parties, including youth wings, to detail their accounts.

SIPO had plan-ned to introduce new guidelines for 2014, but last week Mr Hogan wrote and said they did not have the power to do so under the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012.

The guidelines, published in the summer but only finalised on November 14, include a provision to examine political parties' "accounting units".

The divide between SIPO and Mr Hogan deepened last week when a letter it wrote to Mr Hogan was published on its website. It revealed that Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour took in more than €2.5m over a two-year period.

SIPO wants to make this information publicly available, but a spokesman for Mr Hogan said it was acting outside its legal powers.

Mr Hogan advised the commission of this in a letter of December 17 following advice from the Attorney General.

"The minister couldn't make a judgment until he saw the guidelines," the spokesman said. "We had to get legal and accounting advice and it's not provided for in the legislation.

"The AG advice is never shared, it doesn't happen generally. When the minister has SIPO's correspondence officially we'll consider it (a meeting).

"The minister believes you can't set the guidelines in their current form . . . he has a responsibility that (they) are in line with legislation."

He said there were already provision for parties' local units to report donations to SIPO.

Sources said SIPO's view on the matter had been flagged last summer when a public consultation process began, adding: "If the minister had an issue, he could well have engaged in that exercise. His party did."

Former Fine Gael junior minister Lucinda Creighton said SIPO should be allowed promote and ensure "transparency, honesty and good politics".

Separately, it has also emerged that SIPO will not be able to open up new investigations into alleged wrongdoing in the political system until at least the end of January because two members of the commission have left office.

Irish Independent

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