Written answers

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government

Electoral Process

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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207. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he will provide an update on the reform of electoral laws to prevent donations from non-citizens outside the State influencing elections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10262/23]

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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208. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he will provide an update on the measures his Department is taking to ensure that political parties’ electoral spending accounts are fully compliant, transparent and publicly accountable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10263/23]

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 207 and 208 together.

The Electoral Act 1997 (as amended) provides the statutory framework for dealing with political financing and sets out the regulatory regime covering a wide range of inter-related issues such as the funding of political parties; the reimbursement of election expenses; the establishment of election expenditure limits; the disclosure of election expenditure; the setting of limits on permissible donations; the prohibition of certain donations; the disclosure of donations; and the registration of third parties who accept donations given for political purposes which exceed €100.

The principal objectives of the Act are to ensure that there is openness and accountability in the relationships that exist between election candidates, elected members and political parties and those who would support them, whether by way of financial assistance or otherwise. The Act also seeks to achieve equity in the electoral process by limiting expenditure at elections and by providing a system whereby candidates at elections can recoup election expenses subject to certain criteria being met.

In the context of compliance, the Act also provides for the independent supervision of this regime by the Standards in Public Office (SIPO) Commission who have published a number of guidelines to inform election candidates, members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, members of the European Parliament, political parties, corporate donors and third parties of their obligations under the Act. Under the Act, SIPO may make such inquiries as it considers appropriate and may require any person, political party or third party to furnish any such information as it considers appropriate for the purpose of exercising its duties under the Act. Failure to comply is an offence under the Act.

Under Parts IV and VI of the Act, an election candidate, a Member of the Oireachtas, a Member of the European Parliament, a political party or a third party may not accept a range of donations, including a donation, of whatever value, from an individual other than an Irish citizen who resides outside the island of Ireland or a donation from a body corporate or unincorporated body of persons which does not keep an office in the island of Ireland from which one or more of its principal activities is directed. Accordingly, foreign donations by non-citizens of any amount are prohibited and where such donations have been made, it is incumbent upon the recipient to either return the donation to the donor or remit it to SIPO within 14 days of its receipt. In addition, the recipients of prohibited donations must comply with any direction that may be given by SIPO in the matter.

Notwithstanding the above, the Electoral Reform Act 2022 (enacted in July 2022) provides for, among other matters, the establishment of an independent statutory electoral commission – An Coimisiún Toghcháin. In addition, Part 7 of the Act provides for a number of amendments to the Electoral Act 1997 aimed at clarifying and strengthening the relevant provisions relating to our political donations and expenditure regime.

In broad terms, Part 7 strengthens a number of definitions within the 1997 Act to clarify what falls within the scope of a donation, what might constitute an exemption from a donation and the status of subsidiary organisations of political parties that have offices outside the State having regard to our donations regime. It also requires the leaders of political parties to provide a written statement and accompanying statutory declaration each year to SIPO stating that donations from outside the State have been declared and that no other donations took place in the party’s donation statement for the preceding year. Furthermore, a new definition of ‘cryptocurrency’ is inserted into the 1997 Act together with a general prohibition on the acceptance of donations in the form of a cryptocurrency.

Part 7 also amends Part IX of the 1997 Act to provide that the annual statements of accounts prepared by each political party shall also apply to subsidiary organisations and shall include all property within the ownership of the political party (including property within the ownership of each of its subsidiary organisations) as well as a breakdown of the aggregate amount of donations received by the political party (including donations received by each of its subsidiary organisations). These obligations commenced on 1 January 2023 and will apply to the annual statements of accounts due for the 2023 calendar year which must be furnished to SIPO in accordance with the deadline set out in section 87 of the 1997 Act.

As a final point. during the passage of the then Electoral Reform Bill through the Oireachtas in the summer of 2022, I committed to An Coimisiún, when established, carrying out a comprehensive review of the Electoral Act 1997. With the recent establishment of An Coimisiún, it is envisaged that a review of the 1997 Act will take place with a view to making recommendations on any aspects of that Act that may require amendment.


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