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Justice Minister Helen McEntee won’t say if she received any other donations from Tayto boss

Justice Minister Helen McEntee with Mr Tayto

Justice Minister Helen McEntee. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Philip Ryan

Justice Minister Helen McEntee is refusing to say if she received any other political donations from Tayto Park owner Ray Coyle, apart from the €4,200 which breached political funding rules.

Ms McEntee’s spokesperson said “anything she would have had to declare, she did declare” when asked if Mr Coyle had given her a donation on any other occasion.

The public relations company representing Mr Coyle would also not respond to queries on whether he previously contributed to Ms McEntee’s campaign funds.

Ms McEntee’s published donation declarations from 2016 onwards do not show any donations from Mr Coyle.

However, politicians do not have to disclose donations they receive under €600. They can also receive cash donations up to €200, and €100 in anonymous donations.

Constituency organisations also hold lunch and dinner events where donors buy tables and can leave cash donations.

Meath East held a €1,000-a-table event in the Dunboyne Castle Hotel in October 2019.

Mr Coyle will not say if he attended the event and Ms McEntee will also not answer queries about the fundraiser.

The minister was forced to return the vast majority of a €4,200 donation given to her by Mr Coyle as it was in breach of Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) rules.

Ms McEntee was given three cheques for €1,400 each in the names of different companies owned by the amusement park owner. The money was given to Ms McEntee four days before the general election in February 2020.

The cheques were lodged in the minister’s personal election account. The majority of the money was returned to Mr Coyle almost a year later.

However, under Sipo guidelines, politicians are required to hand back donations that are in breach of rules within two weeks.

Mr Coyle said the decision to use three of his companies to make the donation had “nothing whatsoever” to do with Ms McEntee; rather, it came from “in-house” advice he received from his business.

The businessman said he gave the money to Ms McEntee because she is his local TD and he believes she is doing a good job for the constituency.

Ms McEntee said the donations were accepted due to a “misunderstanding” about the rules in her constituency office.

The minister said the issue was discovered when Sipo returns were being made by her office and the money was returned at that stage.

When first asked by the Irish Independent about the €4,200 donation, Ms McEntee said she had never assisted Mr Coyle.

However, she later said she had assisted Mr Coyle and Tayto Park on Covid restrictions.

“In the course of her work as a TD for Meath East, during Covid-19, Minister McEntee was regularly contacted by many constituents, companies, organisations and community groups seeking clarity and guidance on Covid regulations,” the minister’s spokesperson said.

It also emerged Fine Gael in Meath East held a party in honour of Ms McEntee when she was first elected to the Dáil. Supporters were charged €15 to attend the event.

Ms McEntee, along with other elected representatives, also attended the launch in October 2019 of Tayto Park’s Viking Voyage attraction which was part funded by a €187,000 Fáilte Ireland grant.

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