The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) identified several errors in Sinn Féin’s annual accounts for 2021, including an incorrect auditor’s report, an incorrect cash flow statement and a failure to include the full detail of the political party’s staff pension scheme.
inn Féin’s auditors asked Sipo to “destroy” its original submission after the State’s ethics watchdog identified the flaws which forced the party and its auditors to resubmit its financial statements last August.
Sinn Féin’s finances have been under scrutiny in recent weeks. Last Friday it was forced to announce a full review of its general election expenses after a series of flaws, including undeclared spending on polls and unpaid venue hire bills were identified by the Irish Independent and others in recent days.
The controversy over Fine Gael Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe’s undeclared donations from businessman Michael Stone in two election campaigns has intensified focus on ethics and transparency by politicians and political parties.
The issue is set to remain on the political agenda this week when Labour will escalate its push for a fresh probe into former minister Damien English after he lied on a planning application.
The party will submit a formal complaint against Mr English to an internal Dáil committee unless Taoiseach Leo Varadkar outlines what action he intends to take against the Fine Gael TD.
Sinn Féin is blaming the latest issues with its more recent financial statements for 2021 on its auditors.
The discrepancies emerged in correspondence from Sipo official Ray Butler to Sinn Féin’s finance manager Treasa Quinn and the party’s auditor John Kinsella on August 10 last year regarding Sinn Féin’s 26 County Report and financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2021.
Mr Butler said Sipo could not complete its consideration of the financial statements as an “incorrect auditor’s report” had been attached.
It also identified issues with its cash flow statement whereby movement on loans was shown as positive €189,519 when the figure should have been in brackets, indicating a negative value.
Net cash in financing activities was shown as €220,843 when the figure should have also been in brackets.
Mr Butler also informed the party and its auditor that the accounts made no reference to a staff pension scheme.
Sipo asked that a discrepancy of more than €16,500 between the staff pensions listed of €258,386 and the notional figure representing support from the Houses of the Oireachtas of €241,841 be clarified.
Mr Kinsella, copying in Ms Quinn, wrote back to Mr Butler on August 24 with an amended set of accounts.
“You might arrange to have these reviewed and if all is OK you might destroy the original set and I will submit the above in hard copy,” he wrote.
Contacted last Friday, Mr Kinsella said the auditor’s report was incorrect as it was an old format and had not been changed to reflect that Sinn Féin is not a limited company.
He said issues with cash flow statement were “presentational errors” and said the issue with staff pension costs was not a discrepancy. “Sipo asked that we expand our note to actually mention that the balance of €16,545 related to contributions made by the party to a staff pension scheme,” he said.
“There is no discrepancy, just a little more detail required by way of an expanded note.
Asked about the request to “destroy” the accounts, Mr Kinsella said that making the changes requested by Sipo had the “effect of rendering the original set of accounts redundant”.
“It was either a case of Sipo returning the original accounts to us for shredding or saving time and effort by doing so themselves at our request and this we asked them to do,” he said.
He added that there was no further correspondence from Sipo in relation to the accounts.
Asked for its comment on the matter, Sinn Féin said: “The party’s auditor has issued a response to your queries.”
Sipo said: “Due to the nature of Sipo’s role as an impartial oversight body and in order to be fair to all parties involved, we do not comment on individual, or party matters.”
Meanwhile, the Labour Party is set to make an ethics complaint to the Dáil committee on members’ interests over Mr English, of Fine Gael, who resigned earlier this month after he admitted to lying on a planning application for his family home.
Labour believes Mr English may have breached the Ethics in Public Office Act in failing to disclose the fact he already owned a home when, as a serving TD, he applied to Meath County Council for planning for his family in 2008.
Labour leader Ivana Bacik has twice in recent weeks asked Mr Varadkar about what further action will be taken against Mr English who has made no Dáil statement or any media appearance since he resigned earlier this month.
The Fine Gael parliamentary party gave Mr English a round of applause when it met in the week after his resignation from Government.
“There are a lot of people in Ireland who followed the rules when submitting planning applications and thousands will have struggled to secure permission or been refused, yet they see a senior member of Fine Gael acting with impunity,” a Labour source said.
Ms Bacik is likely to submit the letter to the internal Dáil committee this week unless Mr Varadkar commits to taking further action against Mr English.
A draft of the letter outlines the party’s believe that “the non-disclosure of a highly material fact by Deputy English in his dealings with Meath County Council — in circumstances where a significant benefit appears to have accrued as a direct result — amounted to an ‘interaction’ with that public body in a manner inconsistent with his role as a public representative and legislator”.
Labour said this “undermined public confidence in the performance of their functions by members of the Dáil, and that it could serve only to bring the integrity of the office of member of Dáil Éireann and of the Dáil itself into serious disrepute”.
In response to Labour’s call for further action, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach said: “Planning law enforcement is a matter for Meath County Council. The Fine Gael party’s disciplinary procedures are an internal matter just like those of the Labour Party are.”