September 29, 2022

Kildare Nationalist – No changes to guidelines needed for disclosure of political party accounts, says watchdog

Cate McCurry, Pennsylvania

The Public Service Standards Commission (Sipo) said it would not make any changes to its guidelines on the disclosure of accounts by political parties, despite concerns expressed about parties operating in multiple jurisdictions.

In its annual report, the ethics watchdog said it had revised its guidelines for the preparation of audited annual statements of accounts by political parties.

The review came after concerns were raised about political parties working and running for office in several jurisdictions.

A number of concerns have been raised with Sipo after a Briton left Sinn Féin €2million.

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Sinn Féin chair Mary Lou McDonald said there were ‘effectively two Sinn Feins’ when accepting the large donation in Northern Ireland (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sinn Féin was able to accept the testamentary windfall in Northern Ireland but could not accept it in the Republic.

The donation was made by William E Hampton and was the largest donation made to a political party in the North.

Sipo accepted Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald’s position on the donation and that there are “effectively two Sinn Féins”.

In its report released on Tuesday, the Sipo said political parties must put controls in place to ensure there are no “illegal or inappropriate cross-border transactions”.

The 1997 electoral law provides for the publication of statements of annual accounts by political parties, as well as the keeping of accounting registers, and the verification of statements of accounts by auditors.

The law requires that the accounts comply with the form and content requirements set out in the directives issued by the commission.

Sipo said: “In its annual report for 2020, the commission noted that concerns had been raised about the application of laws to registered political parties operating in multiple jurisdictions.

“The committee noted that some political parties registered to contest elections in Ireland are also registered to contest elections in Northern Ireland and therefore must organize and operate under two different regimes of electoral regulation. .

“They must also put in place controls to ensure that there are no illegal or inappropriate cross-border transactions.

“The commission also noted that where a corporate donor, including a political party in Northern Ireland, wishes to donate funds to a party, elected official, candidate or third party in Ireland, this would count as a donation and would be subject to the limitations and disclosure provisions set out in the Act.

“The commission has indicated that it will revise its guidelines for the preparation of annual audited statements of accounts by Irish political parties in the light of questions raised about parties operating in multiple jurisdictions.

“After conducting this review, the commission has decided that there is no need to change the current guidelines for political party account statements.”

Fine Gael senator Barry Ward told the PA news agency that Sipo should be given the power to seek evidence as to where donations have been spent.

He added: “The main problem that arose was that the legacy that was left to Sinn Féin by this man in Wales was left to Sinn Féin in the Republic of Ireland, not Northern Ireland.

“Sinn Féin obviously has no right to receive this amount of money from a single donor in the Republic of Ireland.

“So that was a problem for them and then they took that money from their coffers up north.

“The problem I have is that there is simply no guarantee from Sipo’s perspective on how this money is spent and no guarantee that it is not spent in any way. whether for political activities in the Republic, which they would not have the right to do.

“Without a streak of accounts and things like that, it’s very hard for Sipo to be happy about that.”

Mr Ward added: ‘The point of Sipo is not just to take the word of political parties, it’s always that they would be able to make decisions, and they make decisions all the time when complaints are addressed to them.

“The idea is that there will be an independent body that will not just take the words of political parties for this, but actually have the power to look beyond the word and look for real evidence or a demonstration that something has been done or something has not been done”. it hasn’t been done, it depends on what.

“I would much rather they did that and took the word of any party, and I’m not saying that’s Sinn Féin particular, because it’s as much for Fine Gael or Labor. or the social democrats or whoever.

“There should be a mechanism by which Sipo is satisfied not just with the commitment of the political party, but with the actual state of the facts as to what he has or has not done.”

Sinn Féin has been contacted for comment.