DUBLIN — Irish Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe came under increasing pressure to resign on Tuesday after a business friend admitted he had given Donohoe undeclared help in back-to-back elections in contradiction with the rules on donations.
Donohoe, the Eurogroup chairman and one of Ireland’s most prominent politicians on the European stage, will face hostile questioning later on Tuesday in parliament – his second time last week in a sudden seat warm. But government officials told POLITICO they expect Donohoe to vigorously defend his ethics record.
At stake is the stability and potential survival of Ireland’s coalition government, which last month shuffled leadership positions between Micheál Martin’s Fianna Fáil and Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael, as previously agreed. As Varadkar became prime minister and Martin foreign minister, Fine Gael’s Donohoe handed the key finance portfolio to Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath, but retained his Eurogroup leadership position in Brussels.
Donohoe apologized to parliament last Wednesday after admitting his 2016 election campaign failed to disclose the donations of construction chief Michael Stone, a matter currently being investigated by the Public Service Standards Commission.
Donohoe’s explanation did not appease the main opposition Sinn Féin, whose finance spokesman Pearse Doherty repeatedly asked him to confirm whether Stone also provided undisclosed help for Donohoe’s 2020 campaign.
While an unhinged Donohoe didn’t respond directly, Stone finally did on Tuesday morning – and confirmed it had provided similar assistance in 2020.
Stone, founder of a multinational construction company called Designer Group, immediately resigned from two government-appointed positions on the boards of the Land Development Agency and a town center development trust .
At first glance, the reported donations as disclosed by Stone look like the smallest of potatoes, just €1,240 in 2016 and €1,406 in 2020. In both cases, Stone said, he had paid six of his own construction workers to erect Donohoe campaign posters. around his Dublin Central constituency, using a Designer Group work van.
However, few politicians, even within Donohoe’s own party, believe in receiptless figures – as they do not reflect their own experience of true campaign costs. Under Irish ethics laws, campaigns are expected to report on business costs even when services are offered at a discount or free of charge.
Most say the true display cost should be closer to $5,000 per campaign. Such a bill would have to be funded by multiple donors to stay within the legal cap of €1,000 per personal donation or, arguably in Stone’s case, a lower limit of €200 that applies to unregistered corporate donors.
Yet Donohoe further argues that Stone’s recently disclosed donations do not violate these boundaries, in part because they were not intended for him at all, but rather for the wider Fine Gael campaign in Dublin Central. A problem with this argument is that, as Fine Gael fielded two candidates in the multi-seat constituency, Stone workers erected posters featuring Donohoe.
While many supporters express disbelief that Donohoe could be unseated by a scandal involving such small sums, Ireland has a history of unseating high-profile figures over scandals initially thought to be minor matters. The most notable recent example is that of Ireland’s former EU Commissioner, Phil Hogan, who was forced to resign as trade chief in 2020 for failing to adhere to Ireland’s pandemic quarantine rules.
Many politicians and staff chatting in the parliamentary halls on Tuesday took turns recalling a famous quote from the late Prime Minister Albert Reynolds. In 1994, he was considered a possible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in bringing about an Irish Republican Army ceasefire – only to be forced out of office within weeks by disgruntled coalition allies.
“It’s unbelievable,” Reynolds told reporters after his unexpected ouster. “You get over the big obstacles, and when you get to the little ones, you trip.”