DUBLIN — Eurogroup chairman Paschal Donohoe admitted on Tuesday to receiving donations from companies that breached Ireland’s strict legal limits, escalating a scandal that is straining the stability of Ireland’s coalition government.
Donohoe, the longtime finance minister who changed his Cabinet role last month and is now in charge of public spending and reform, issued his second apology in a week to parliament for mishandling statements spending on his Irish election campaigns in 2016 and – in a new admission on Tuesday – also in 2020.
Contrary to his initial defense last week, Donohoe said he now accepts that some of a business friend’s undeclared donations should have been reported as coming from an unregistered corporate donor. These are supposed to be capped at just €200, not the personal donation limit of €1,000.
Donohoe had cited that higher threshold last week in an attempt to show that 2016 campaign donations, while not properly reported, did not violate legal donation limits.
But Donohoe was forced to change his explanations and arithmetic once the donor, former Construction Industry Federation chief Michael Stone, confirmed on Tuesday morning that he had paid half a dozen of his own workers to erect campaign posters for Donohoe ahead of both elections. They were photographed using a van bearing the name of Stone’s company, the Designer Group.
Rock blamed himself for putting Donohoe in an awkward position and resigned from his two government-appointed posts at the Land Development Agency and an urban regeneration trust.
Donohoe said he had informed the Irish Standards Commission for Public Service, known as SIPO, that his office would reimburse Stone’s Designer Group €234.20 as part of last week’s review and the discovery of donations which he called “unauthorized” and “inadvertent”. SIPO — an independent body overseen by Donohoe’s own ministry — opened an investigation into Donohoe’s election spending spanning the two election years.
Donohoe described his mistakes as the product of “inadequate attention”, particularly in 2020 when he was chief electoral officer for the Fine Gael party responsible for campaign strategy in 39 constituencies nationwide. He insisted he simply didn’t know that at his home in his central Dublin neighborhood, Stone was paying his own construction workers to put up posters.
But opposition parties have ridiculed Donohoe’s revised explanations, led by Sinn Féin, which dominated the poll in 2020 and is trying to oust Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael and its coalition partners from power.
Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty accused Donohoe of presenting false figures which underestimated the true value of Stone’s contributions and attempted “to reverse the figures so that everything seems plausible”.
He rejected Donohoe’s main claim that the use of Stone’s company vans should be treated as a corporate donation subject to the €200 rule, while the money Stone paid to its workers using these vans to erect posters was to be treated as personal donations just under the €. Limit of 1,000 for this category.
When the rowdy Sinn Féin drowned out Donohoe’s response, he quipped: “I don’t know if you’re interested in my response or my face.”
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Sinn Féin said it was still considering whether to seek a vote of confidence from Donohoe. Sinn Féin has already twice tested the government’s grip on power by demanding votes of confidence in Varadkar and former Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney. The government – which includes the Green Party and receives external support from independent rural lawmakers – retained comfortable majorities in both votes.
Losing a vote of confidence would trigger a snap election, as the government hopes to complete its full five-year term until February 2025.