The controversy over Paschal Donohoe’s postering is faintly ridiculous. The amounts in question are tiny in the greater scheme of things. Nobody is suggesting that Donohoe dishonestly concealed anything. Nobody is even suggesting that he deliberately sought to mislead SIPO or the Dáil.
Nobody is suggesting that Michael Stone deliberately infringed election expenses rules. Nobody is suggesting that Michael Stone is other than a hardworking and very successful businessman, born and raised in north Dublin inner city, who agreed without remuneration of any kind to serve pro bono on two public boards – one national (the Land Development Agency) and the other a local regeneration body for the area.
Both men are, in my view, model citizens.
This cannot be said of many of their accusers in this matter.
Peadar Tóibín, a former Sinn Féin TD now in Aontú, once informed this paper that his former party, Sinn Féin, owned more than 100 properties which are used for party purposes. That figure is astonishing in itself. At one time, we were told that Sinn Féin levied its public representatives to reduce their pay to the average industrial wage. If that was true, it seemed to breach the limits set for personal donations to a political party.
Sinn Féin raises huge sums, running to hundreds of thousands of euros, annually in the US and Australia where contributions are completely outside the scope of SIPO regulation. The party receives Westminster expenses in amounts that no other Irish party receives (and abstains from participation in the UK parliament’s proceedings).
Sinn Féin has accepted huge donations and bequests, sometimes exceeding £1 million, which any other party in this state would be obliged to decline or pay over to SIPO.
In short, Sinn Féin operates at a level and with resources that no other party in this island can match. And because it operates in more than one jurisdiction, it is not amenable to our system of regulation of political donations.
We are told that the IRA is no longer operational but expert security opinion believes that it has not been formally disbanded and that its leadership remains intact.
That raises many questions. The proceeds of the Northern Bank robbery attributed to the activities of IRA after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement remain largely unaccounted for.
Likewise, the Irish and British governments were informed by US representatives at the Weston Park talks in 2001 that the IRA had clandestinely sent teams to Colombia to sell bomb-making technology and know-how to the communist FARC guerrillas in exchange for more than $20 million dollars derived from FARCs control of the narcotics trade.
These post-1998 activities ran alongside a campaign of robberies, high-jackings and thefts, north and south of the border, directed by the IRA in Belfast as “fundraisers”. Fundraising for what at that time?
It seems grotesque that Sinn Féin which has admitted recently to failing to notify SIPO of a payment made to a UK polling company in relation to the 2020 election with a greater value than Michael Stone’s contributions should raise the issue of political donations and funding at all.
The very least that we can and should do now is to turn off the foreign donations and fundraising tap and require Sinn Féin, regardless of where it is campaigning – north or south - to abide by the laws of this state in relation to all donation limits and transparency that apply in this state.
It is laughable that they can avail of the UK’s donations regime (which gives rise to well-founded charges of political cronyism and corruption in the UK) and accept donations and bequests which a 26-county party would have to reject.
All the political parties in this state have enacted laws which allow for millions of euro tax-payers money to be doled out to them in proportion to their share of the vote at the last election. While notionally bound not to use those funds for election expenses, the fact remains that they use them to prepare for the next election and building up the profiles of their intended candidates.
New parties are faced with a vertical cliff face in financing their activities.
Don’t fall for the bland rhetoric of “let’s ban posters”. An independent or new party candidate will struggle to get any coverage in national broadcast media for the fact they are running, for who they are, and what they stand for. The print media are unlikely to give them much oxygen either.
Posters are a simple way of drawing voters’ attention to their candidacy. Door to door canvassing is becoming more difficult. Posters are recyclable and tags should be cut down with them after the election.
It is said by some that the “One Party Government? No Thanks!” poster altered the outcome of one general election.