‘The minister has always held himself to the highest standards in the conduct of his work. He is now conducting a full review of all records from that time’
The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), is considering a complaint made against Donohoe — that the Designer Group engineering firm, owned and run by Michael Stone, used two company vans and six employees to erect and later remove election posters for the Fine Gael minister in his Dublin Central constituency during the 2016 general election campaign.
Donohoe, through his spokesperson, has admitted the work was carried out — but said he did not declare it because "the vehicle was provided free of charge, and the equivalent commercial value was below the relevant donation limits."
However, following the complaint to Sipo (which alleges the effective value of the work was circa €10,000 including man hours, fuel and other expenses) and several inquiries from this newspaper over the last two months, Paschal Donohoe’s spokesperson spoke on Friday.
“The minister is aware of a complaint made to Sipo. He will engage with Sipo on the matter,” they said.
“The minister has always held himself to the highest standards in the conduct of his work. He is now conducting a full review of all records from that time.”
The complaint to Sipo was made by freelance journalist Liam Deegan, who alleges that in failing to declare the work on his election expenses return in 2016, Donohoe breached the Electoral Act.
In December, Donohoe’s spokesperson told the Sunday Independentthat the provision of the service was not declared because “as per Sipo guidelines for candidates and election agents, the service provided by the individuals was not regarded as a donation to a candidate. The vehicle was provided free of charge, and the equivalent commercial value was below the relevant donation limits.”
Sipo rules limit the maximum aggregate donation from one source in one calendar year to an individual to €1,000 — while any corporate donor making a donation over €200 in value, whether in money or as a service, must register with Sipo as a corporate donor.
Donations exceeding €600 in aggregate value must include the name and address of the donor. Donohoe’s election expenses return for 2016 does not contain any reference to the Designer Group or Michael Stone.
Just over a year after the election, Donohoe opened Designer Group’s new offices and hailed the company as “a great Irish business success story”.
Donohoe’s spokesperson did not respond directly to a query about his attendance at the event in Blanchardstown in west Dublin in May 2017.
Michael Stone also chairs the North East Inner City Initiative, set up in 2016 to oversee the social and economic regeneration of the area, which is in Donohoe’s constituency.
Sipo said that under the Electoral Act, an election expenses statement “must include details of all expenses, whenever incurred, for the provision of property, goods or services that are used for campaign purposes during the election period.”
Under the Act, a donation is defined as the “donation of property or goods; the supply of services without payment; and the difference between the commercial price of goods or services and the price charged.”
However, Sipo also said that under the Act, a political donation excludes “a service rendered by an individual, including the use of the individual’s motor vehicle on behalf of political candidates/representatives/parties, where that service is gratuitous and is not part of that individual’s work .
"This is intended to protect volunteers’ engagement in political campaigning, such as a volunteer who uses their own car to transport posters, etc”.
Following his complaint in November, Sipo told Deegan that “the matter is under consideration, and you will be notified by the office in due course.”
Contacted for comment, Mr Stone said yesterday: “I received your email. I have no comment to make.”