Republic of Ireland news

Paschal Donohoe should not be hounded from office, Barry Cowen insists

Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen (Brian Lawless/PA)
David Young, PA

Former government minister Barry Cowen has insisted Paschal Donohoe should not be hounded out of office over the controversy linked to his election campaign expenses.

The Fianna Fail TD was sacked as agriculture minister in 2020 after refusing to field questions in the Dail about a furore involving a historical drink driving incident.

Mr Cowen has now backed Mr Donohoe as pressure continues to mount on the public expenditure minister over financial support received from a donor ahead of the 2016 general election.

However, he said it might be appropriate to censure Mr Donohoe, potentially by way of a suspension or loss of pay, if further issues come to light about donations.

Mr Donohoe, who is president of the influential Eurogroup of Euro zone finance ministers, will make a fresh statement to the Dail next Tuesday on the controversy.

In an earlier statement to the Dail on Wednesday evening, the Fine Gael TD apologised over the issues related to non-declarations of expenditure.

He declined to answer questions from TDs on that occasion, citing an ongoing examination of the issues by ethics watchdog Sipo (Standards in Public Office Commission).

In 2020, Mr Cowen was sacked by then taoiseach Micheal Martin after he refused to take Dail questions on the drive driving charge, insisting he was entitled to due process in relation to a probe by the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

While Mr Donohoe is now due to field questions following his statement in the Dail on Tuesday, the events of this week have prompted comparisons with Mr Cowen's case.

Mr Cowen told RTE Radio One that Mr Donohoe did not deserve to be sacked.

“For this offence, no way should he be hounded out of office,” he said.

“I'm not getting calls to my constituency office nor anyone else across the country about the issues that matter to them (the callers) are about who paid for 140 quid for a van to put posters up two elections ago.”

Over the weekend, it emerged that Mr Donohoe had not declared a payment made by businessman Michael Stone for six people to hang up election posters ahead of the 2016 general election.

The minister said that six people were paid to hang up posters over “four dates” during the campaign, both before and after polling day, with the work done before polling day valued at 917 euro.

He said he was not aware before a full review in December, following a recent complaint to Sipo, that the workers had been paid in a “personal payment” by Mr Stone.

He also admitted that he should have amended his election expenses in 2017 after he became aware that a corporate van had been used to hang the posters up, which he has estimated to be worth 140 euros.

The Fine Gael politician said neither he or any member of his campaign team “intentionally misinformed Sipo or knew that a form was incorrectly submitted to them at that time”.

Mr Donohoe also told the Dail Mr Stone made a donation to Fine Gael through the purchase of superdraw tickets which he sold to him.

Mr Stone bought five tickets in 2020, with a donation value of 334 euro, and 22 tickets in 2021, with a donation value of 1,382 euro, the minister told the Dail.

The donation was to the Fine Gael party centrally and within the legal limits, he added.

The minister insisted those donations were not required to be disclosed but he was doing so to be “fully transparent to the house”.

Mr Cowen said the issues related to Mr Donohoe's expenses needed to be balanced against his record in government.

“Paschal Donohoe is a good man, he's a hardworking, dedicated, conscientious politician that serves his constituency and his country well,” he said.

The Laois Offaly TD added: “Is this a sackable offence, is this an offence that warrants or merits resignation? No, I don't believe it is, when you put that and you measure his wrongdoing, his failures, his mistakes, and his apology against what's on the other side of the scale.”

Sinn Fein and other opposition parties have been demanding that Mr Donohoe provides further details on his links with Mr Stone.

In particular, they have asked for clarity around whether a similar arrangement with posters was in place for the 2020 election.

Questions have also been asked around whether the sums involved were lower than what the services might have cost in the open commercial market.

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