The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has decided not to sanction Paschal Donohoe, the Fine Gael minister, for breaches of the Electoral Act. The Commission has also decided not to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The decision was made because Donohoe has since amended his election returns. Freelance journalist, Liam Deegan, had filed two separate complaints against the minister. Donohoe had failed to declare in two successive election returns that Denis O’Brien had paid thousands of euro towards displaying his campaign posters in his Dublin Central constituency in the 2016 and 2020 general elections. Donohoe was forced to apologise over the controversy in January and give two Dáil statements, whilst also amending his election returns.
The Commission’s decision was outlined in a letter to Liam Deegan last Wednesday. Mr Stone, the chief executive of the engineering firm the Designer Group, was forced to resign as a board member of the Land Development Agency and as chair of the North East Inner City (NEIC) taskforce amid the controversy. In outlining its rationale for the decision this week, the Commission told Mr Deegan in a letter that it had considered information provided by Mr Donohoe and his election agent Fergus O’Rourke, and the subsequent amended election returns. It had “determined that it was not in the public interest for the Commission to further exercise its powers under s.4(4) of the Electoral Act or to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions”, the letter stated.
Sipo also said that the Commission had considered whether the complaint could constitute a breach of the Ethics in Public Office Act but that it had decided in light of the amended returns that Mr Deegan’s complaint “was not of sufficient gravity to warrant investigation”. Mr Deegan expressed disappointment at the decision, stating that it sets a precedent for TDs to amend their records after the fact without punishment.
In March, the Irish Independent revealed that no minutes were kept of more than a dozen meetings Mr Donohoe held with Mr Stone in the last five years. During the same period, Mr Stone’s firm has received €67.5m in state contracts. Mr Donohoe’s spokesperson told the Sunday Independent last month that the “minister had no role in the awarding of these or any other government contracts”.
In response to the Sipo outcome, Mr Donohoe expressed gratitude to the Commission for its work, regret over the issue, and welcomed the definitive resolution. He went on to thank the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Minister Ryan, and all of his colleagues in Government for their support. A spokesperson for Mr Donohoe released a statement confirming that the matter is now closed and that the minister will not be making any further comment at this time.