Fine Gael sweetheart and Michael Noonan protégé Pascal Donohoe has admitted to breaching election donation regulations twice following a drawn-out saga. As the headaches mount for the government both domestically and internationally, it would be safe to assume that financial lynchpin Pascal Donohoe had all his paperwork squared away. If there is any government minister you can imagine doing paperwork with childlike glee, it would be him, so how does such a mistake happen? Easily, it seems.
The revelation that the Eurogroup president breached regulations in 2016 and 2020 is incredibly serious, as it shows us how vulnerable our system is to lobbying and corporate interests. Now with that said, is anyone really is surprised? The electorate aren’t fools; we know that politicians are not entirely sure of who is helping them as long as there is someone helping them. It is expected that any number of people try to lend a hand to a TD for any number of reasons, but if the numbers don’t add up, it tends to invigorate the opposition. With the Dáil in session once again following the Christmas break, many were expecting an almighty frontal assault on the government benches. The scandal had reached its second week by the time Pascal made his statement, but instead of it fermenting into a public relations bomb, it briefly illuminated the terrified faces of the opposition and fizzled out.
There are conflicting sayings about publicity, but it is safe to say that any publicity surrounding the anti-establishment party acting exactly like the establishment, is bad. The revelations that there were errors in the records sent to the Standards In Public Office (SIPO) by Sinn Féin virtually annihilated any plan of attack that they may have had. Take into consideration the ongoing court case in the Special Criminal Court involving a former Sinn Féin councillor who donated a significant sum to Mary Lou McDonald and the chances of Donohoe being forced out fall to zero.
There is the question of whether Donohoe has a moral duty to resign, as the previous coalition martyrs had to do, but it seems there is no appetite for this in Leinster House. No politician will call for the head of a senior minister over errors that could plague the books of many wannabe ministers. It is hard to argue that Pascal Donohoe should be allowed to stay on as a minister because of how badly Fine Gael have done in their 11 years in power, but if his head should roll then it should be for something other than a set of errors in his SIPO returns. If someone was using a legal loophole to avoid declaring their donations (looking at you, Mary Lou), then it is time to close the loophole. Why hasn’t it been closed already then? It is quite simple: This is not a bug, it’s a feature. Ireland has not left behind the wheeler-dealer antics of Haughey and Reynolds; it has just put them on a statutory footing to avoid unwanted attention. Pascal should not go over this, it would be reputationally disastrous for the president of the Eurogroup to resign over this during the worst financial crisis since 2008. The departure of Donohoe would spell doom for a coalition eying up the finish line after a tough period in government. As hard as it is to say this of the man: Pascal is a valuable asset for Ireland and sacrificing him would be an odd way to show aspiring politicians what’s in store for them.