Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns questioned by State ethics watchdog over donation

A Social Democrats TD was contacted by the State ethics watchdog about a donation that appeared to be over the legal limit.

ut Holly Cairns said the single payment came from two different people, so it wasn’t necessary to declare it.

Her party has accused Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohoe of “reverse engineering” his donations to stay within the law.

Ms Cairns also says she knows the identity of the donors who gave money to her who were listed as “Anonymous” on an online donations website.

The Cork South-West TD’s victory, at the expense of Fine Gael in a party heartland, in the 2020 general election was one of the most spectacular results of recent decades.

Under the law, any donations above €600 from an individual have to be declared. Ms Cairns raised nearly €14,000 from three crowdfunding donations appeals for her successful local and general election campaigns in 2019 and 2020.

She used online donations website GoFundMe, which is commonly used for fundraising. The push before the general election brought in just short of €8,500. Among these donations was a single payment for €800, made by credit card, which is above the €600 limit for disclosure.

Along with every other TD, Ms Cairns submitted a donations statement for 2020, the year of the general election, in January 2021. She stated she had not received any donations over €600. But six months later the Standards In Public Office (Sipo) queried why Ms Cairns had not declared the €800.

“It was clarified to Sipo, who have accepted the explanation that it was a combined donation of €400 from two individuals from that family – this was covered in the general election returns,” her office said in response to queries from the Irish Independent.

However, there was no mention of this payment in any general election returns. The €800 donation was listed as coming from “Family Lidholm”, but was just one payment.

“The €800 donation was actually a 2 x €400 donation. It didn’t breach the €600 donation threshold for an individual and therefore didn’t have to be declared on the donation statement. Sipo queried this with Holly in July 2021 and were satisfied with the clarification that it was a donation of €400 from two individuals from the same family,” her office clarified.

It is not clear why Sipo contacted Ms Cairns in the summer of 2021 about this payment because the report on the donations was not published until December 2021. The Standards Commission says it cannot comment “regarding individual cases of compliance”.

During the controversy over Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe’s failure to declare donations for hanging election posters in 2016, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall accused him of manipulating the figures to avoid admitting breaches of the law. Ms Shortall said: “We see all the signs of reverse engineering of the figures in order to fit in with the spending and donations limits.”

Anonymous donations exceeding €100 cannot be accepted under the law. Across her three fundraisers, Ms Cairns received donations from five individuals who did not provide their names publicly and were listed as “Anonymous”.

Ms Cairns says she knows the identity of these individuals and “they are not anonymous – merely the names are not publicly viewable on the platform”.

“We are not providing the names of those who are recorded as anonymous on the GoFundMe. The names and all records are available to Sipo should they decide to review them,” Ms Cairns’s office said.

Before the general election, Sipo made the rules on donations clear to candidates, telling them they were responsible for ensuring that donations accepted were not prohibited.

“This is particularly important where donations are received online. Where a candidate is accepting donations through a website, he/she must be able to properly identify the source of the donation and ensure the donation is not prohibited,” the guidelines say.


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