In developing the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 I had particular regard to recommendations made in the Moriarty Tribunal Report, published in March 2011. This Act, which fundamentally changes the way politics is funded and conducted in Ireland, has been commenced through two commencement orders made in September and November 2012. Under the Act political parties are required to submit their annual accounts to the Standards in Public Office Commission for publication, based on guidelines to be prepared by the Standards in Public Office Commission.
This provision, which will come into effect in respect of the first financial year which commences after guidelines are published, addresses the Moriarty Tribunal recommendation that all income of political parties be disclosed. It goes beyond this recommendation by providing that the expenditure of parties is also reported and open to public scrutiny. The Tribunal recommended that all political donations, apart from those under a modest threshold, be disclosed. The threshold at which donations must be declared by a political party to the Standards in Public Office Commission will fall from €5,078.95 to €1,500 for donation statements made on or after 1 April 2013. The declaration threshold for a donation received by a candidate or elected representative has been reduced from €634.87 to €600 for donation statements made on or after 1 February 2013. There is a reduction from €5,078.95 to €200 in the threshold at which donations must be reported by companies, trade unions, societies and building societies in their annual reports or returns made on or after 7 November 2013. In addition, with effect from 1 February 2013, the threshold for donors other than companies, trade unions, societies and building societies, in reporting donations to the Standards in Public Office Commission, has been reduced from €5,078.95 to €1,500 for aggregate donations given in the same year.
The Moriarty Tribunal in its Report noted that the desirability and feasibility of a complete ban on private political funding is pre-eminently a matter for the Oireachtas, and for public debate and consideration, having regard to constitutional issues that might arise and to the national financial exigencies. With reference to this comment in the Tribunal Report, a noteworthy provision in the Act is the introduction of a ban on the acceptance of donations over €200 for political purposes from a corporate donor unless the donor has registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission. This came into effect on 1 January 2013. The Government’s objective is to restrict the influence of corporate donors. Such donations also need to be accompanied by a statement confirming that the donation has been approved by a general meeting of the members of the body, or by its trustees.
The Act provides for a reduction in the maximum amount that can be accepted as a political donation by an individual from €2,539.48 to €1,000. This €1,000 limit will apply in respect of donations to a member of either House of the Oireachtas, a Member of the European Parliament or a member of a local authority, as well as a candidate at a Presidential, Dáil, Seanad, European Parliament or local election. The maximum amount that can be accepted as a donation by a political party, an accounting unit of a political party or a third party has been reduced from €6,348.69 to €2,500. These new limits came into effect on 1 January 2013. This Act significantly enhances the openness and transparency of political funding in Ireland, issues that were central to the recommendations made in the Moriarty Tribunal Report.