Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe has sought to shift blame for his election donations controversy amid unresolved questions about the costs involved.
During a heated Dáil debate, Mr Donohoe blamed businessman Michael Stone, a Fine Gael councillor in his constituency and even his own party for the debacle that has engulfed the Government and resulted in the minister potentially breaching ethics laws.
Mr Stone yesterday resigned from two State boards over the controversy while Mr Donohoe said he would be partially repaying an “unauthorised corporate donation” from the businessman.
Mr Donohoe’s performance in the Dáil seems to have been enough to reassure his party colleagues and coalition partners – but opposition TDs insisted there are more questions to be answered.
Speaking last night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “I think at this stage it really boils down to whether you believe him or not. And I do believe him.”
He said other political parties had scripted their responses before the minister even stood up in the Dáil.
“That’s the way politics plays out. It’s their objective to throw mud in the hope that it sticks.
“And of course, as his colleagues, we’re going to support him because we believe him,” Mr Varadkar said.
In his second Dáil statement on the ongoing election expenses row, Mr Donohoe said he did not know Mr Stone was paying people to put up posters over the course of two general election campaigns. He also personally named Dublin City Councillor Ray McAdam as the person responsible for overseeing his postering operation in the 2020 General Election.
Mr Donohoe attempted to explain away his lack of oversight by saying he was “rarely in his constituency office” during the campaign because he was “performing a national duty” as Fine Gael’s director of elections.
New questions were put to him about how many posters were put up during the 2016 and 2020 campaigns that were paid for by Mr Stone. The businessman has also not said how much his workers were individually paid.
Figures provided by the businessman suggest workers got as little as €32 a night to put up posters. In 2016, the total cost of this poster campaign involving six workers over four nights came to €1,100, which means they were paid €45.83 per person per date. In 2020, six men over five nights cost €972, meaning the rate was €32.40 per person per day.
Mr Donohoe told the Dáil he did not know how many posters were erected on his behalf but last week Fine Gael TDs were briefed to say it was only 150. After the debate, the minister’s spokesperson said it was 150 posters in 2016 but added that she did not know how many were erected in 2020.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy questioned the total amount contributed to Fine Gael by Mr Stone in a year and asked whether this was in breach of election rules.
Mr Murphy also queried why Mr Stone did not contribute to other Fine Gael election candidates in North Dublin because Mr Donohoe has insisted he did not receive personal donations from the businessman.
Mr Donohoe hit out angrily as he was questioned by TDs over discrepancies in his election expenses, at one point saying to Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty that he “was not sure if you want my answer or my head”.
Mr Doherty accused the minister of “taking the mickey” in his responses while Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said he was talking “gobbledygook”.
Hours before the Dáil grilling, Mr Stone released a statement detailing how he paid for Mr Donohoe’s poster campaign in the 2020 General Election despite previously telling him he had not.