t certainly got a bit shouty in the Dáil yesterday, when Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe decided to stonewall the entire Opposition during a farcical questions-and-answers session with TDs about his failure to declare a political donation from engineering firm chief executive Michael Stone.
After some humming and hawing, the minister signed up for a debate that was to involve him making a statement about his failure to declare the political philanthropy he received from Stone during the 2016 general election campaign.
The opposition was to be allowed to pose a series of questions about his election spending – and, in theory, Donohoe was supposed to provide answers.
Donohoe said he will now only answer questions from Sipo
Reasonable questions were asked by TDs about why Donohoe was claiming the donation was made to the party rather than to him.
He was also asked by Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall why he applied “mate’s rates” to how much Stone paid for posters to be put up – rather than, as he is supposed to do, apply the market cost.
Donohoe said Stone paid six workers €1,100 for four days’ work putting up and taking down posters.
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty noted that a declaration for the same election – by Fianna Fáil senator Mary Fitzpatrick – stated that putting up and removing of posters cost her €5,000.
After about 30 minutes of questions, TDs sat back and waited for Donohoe, who says he prides himself on his integrity, to give some answers.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl threatened to suspend the House
Alas, he was not willing to give even an iota of information beyond what he has already said, which amounted to him saying he didn’t know the work was being paid for and he’s very sorry for upsetting everyone.
He said he will now only answer questions from the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).
Opposition members were naturally incensed.
Shouting ensued. A lot of shouting. So much so that Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl threatened to suspend the House.
Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said he should suspend the Dáil, adding that the debate was an “utter embarrassment”.
But he didn’t suspended the House.
Instead, the Ceann Comhairle returned to a second-stage debate on the Oil Emergency Contingency and Transfer of Renewable Transport Fuels Functions Bill 2023.
The vast majority of TDs left the chamber.
Fine Gael ministers then congratulated Donohoe with kind words and thumbs-ups.
It’s now over to Sipo to grill him about his election expenses and donations – but recent history does not suggest he will be shaking in his boots.
The political standards watchdog is a very secretive organisation and rarely gives insights into its investigations.
You only have to look at its recent attempt to investigate Taoiseach Leo Varadkar over leaking allegations. It was split on whether it should even begin an investigation into Varadkar and wouldn’t even say why it was divided.
The watchdog will say it just doesn’t have the legal powers to properly probe politicians. But Sipo is now investigating the politician they spent years asking for stronger powers of investigation.
Donohoe might yet be thankful he didn’t give it the clout it was looking for.