Embattled Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe failed to declare he was a director of a company set up by Leo Varadkar’s former assistant because “both companies were one and the same”, it has been claimed.
Businessman Tom Ponsonby claimed Mr Donohoe’s failure to declare a company directorship in 2009 and 2010, when he was a Fine Gael senator, was “understandable” in a statement that was unusually issued by Mr Donohoe’s ministerial spokesperson this afternoon.
Mr Ponsonby is a long-time Fine Gael supporter whose LinkedIn profile says he was a parliamentary assistant to Mr Varadkar, the Taoiseach, when he was an opposition TD between 2007 and 2008.
Mr Donohoe did not include his directorship of Mr Ponsonby’s ExSite Politics, which was running his website and blog, on the Seanad register of members’ interests in 2009 and 2010, listing only his directorship of ExSite Communications. TDs and Senators are legally bound to declare all company directorships under the State’s ethics laws.
Through a spokesperson Mr Donohoe said he “did not benefit in any way from board membership”. He served on the board, his spokesperson later said, “due to his previous business experience which it was felt could be of use to Mr Ponsonby in the establishment of his start-up”.
Amid confusion over why he was listed as a director of two companies, only one of which he had declared, Mr Donohoe said he had contacted Mr Ponsonby, who is chief executive and creative director of ExSite, about the matter.
Mr Ponsonby, was contacted by Independent.ie today and asked to explain the matter. Within hours, Mr Donohoe’s spokesperson, a taxpayer-funded government adviser, issued the statement on behalf of Mr Ponsonby.
“While Exsite Communications and Exsite Politics were two distinct companies, there was, in practical terms, no real distinction drawn between them,” said the statement.
“The only function of Exsite Politics was to hold public affairs clients apart from commercial ones in the event that it was decided for either one to one day to go in a different direction.
“It is understandable that the minster was of the view that both companies were one and the same as the reference used within the meetings held and our engagement was always only ever to use the term Exsite.”
Mr Donohoe has been under fire in recent days over his failure to declare donations from businessman Michael Stone who paid thousands of euro for Mr Donohoe’s posters to be erected in Dublin Central in the 2016 and 2020 election.
Mr Donohoe told the Dáil yesterday afternoon that he would repay an unauthorised corporate donation from Mr Stone to his constituency organisation in 2020.
The controversy has forced the minister to recuse himself from responsibilities for ethics laws and reforms to the Standards in Public Office Commission which is now examining complaints against him.
Prior to his Dáil statement, which did not address the company directorships issue, and following the publication of a story by The Ditch – revealing the two company directorships – Mr Donohoe said yesterday that he had “served for nine months on the board of a company called Exsite, which was a start-up company, 14 years ago”.