Paschal Donohoe changes stance on businessmen Michael Stone role in the 2020 General Election

Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform, Paschal Donohoe

Philip Ryan and Senan Molony

Paschal Donohoe has dramatically changed his stance on businessman Michael Stone’s role in the 2020 General Election after previously suggesting he had no involvement in the campaign.

Earlier this week, Mr Donohoe’s spokesperson said only “volunteers” were involved in hanging posters for the Minister when the country last went to the polls four years ago

However, since questions have been raised by Sinn Féin about whether the Designer Group’s chief executive paid any money towards the 2020 election, Mr Donohoe’s spokesperson is now refusing to answer questions.

On Tuesday, when asked who erected the Minister’s posters during the 2016 General Election, the Minister’s spokesperson responded saying “volunteers”.

Mr Donohoe is under increasing political pressure over his relationship with the multi-millionaire engineering boss since the Sunday Independent revealed details of his links to Mr Stone.

The Minister was forced to correct his election records on Sunday after it emerged Mr Stone paid for his posters to be erected and removed in 2016.

Mr Donohoe faced questions over whether Mr Stone played any role in his election campaign in 2020 in recent days but has so far refused to answer.

Two days ago, the Minister’s spokesperson Deborah Sweeney said only “volunteers” were involved in hanging Mr Donohoe’s posters in the last general election.

Sinn Féin have been asking the Minister to answer questions as to whether Mr Stone had any involvement in his 2020 campaign since Wednesday evening when he was supposed to address queries in the Dáil.

However, Mr Donohoe refused to answer any questions in the Dáil on Wednesday and also snubbed queries from the opposition on Thursday when he was supposed to address them.

When asked for a second time if the Minister received support from Mr Stone during the 2020 campaign on Thursday, his spokesperson changed her previous comment to say: “The Minister will be making a further statement in due course to address issues raised.”

In a surprise move, Mr Donohoe told the Dáil on Thursday he asked to make a fresh statement on his election expenses to clarify comments he made.

The Dáil Business Committee wanted him to make a statement on the day but the Minister said he was too busy to address the Dáil, meaning it would have to happen next week.

He is now set to address the the controversy this coming Tuesday when the Dáil returns after the weekend break.

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste offered qualified support for Paschal Donohoe on Thursday night when asked if he had absolute confidence there were to be no more disclosable expense revelations.

Micheál Martin said he would wait to hear when Mr Donohoe said in the Dáil next week in connection with the matter after the latter sought to make a further personal statement on Wednesday’s explanation.

“I’m not going to pre-empt what Paschal is going to say. That’s a matter for Paschal, what clarity he wishes to bring to the situation next Tuesday or whatever additional material,” Mr Martin said at Farmleigh in withholding judgement.

“Paschal has indicated that he wishes to go before the Dáil again on Tuesday to make a statement. In terms of format, it will be statement and questions in respect of that. “So I think in fairness I’m going to wait to see what Paschal has to say to the House.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan added: “I would have a very similar perspective to the Tánaiste.

“My sense is there are questions to be answered, first and most importantly place where that is done under law, in the Standards of Public Office.

“I think it's difficult sometimes to do it in the Dáil because in a sense those asking the questions may have questions asked of them in turn.

“But I absolutely respect Paschal’s decision to return and answer some of the questions he was asked. He has that right, and I respect that. I think let that happen.

“He has every entitlement to it, and the Dáil is now going to facilitate it.”

Mr Martin also commented: “More broadly, we do need balance and perspective in relation to these issues and I found Paschal Donohoe to be a very honourable person to deal with in Government over the last two and a half years. I have to say that.

“I think he has the country’s interests at heart, he’s a very committed and dedicated parliamentarian and minister.

“Secondly, a complaint has been made to SIPO and the Dáil established legislation specifically for the purpose of responding to such complaints, either through a preliminary inquiry or subsequent investigation.

“I think there is a challenge there for us all within the Oireachtas whether you have a long parallel process.

“He has come before the Dáil, he has indicated he is going to come before the Dáil again — to clarify some of the issues that have been raised, I presume yesterday in the Dáil, by members of the Opposition and we look forward to that.”

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