By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Pressure is mounting on Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe to give a statement in the Dáil over his failure to declare expenses for hanging election posters.
Mr Donohoe has indicated he is willing to take part in the Oireachtas process as early as possible.
The statement marks a tumultuous beginning of the Dáil term for the Government, after the resignation of a junior minister last week and as the senior Fine Gael minister comes under pressure to explain himself.
Over the weekend it emerged that Mr Donohoe had not declared a payment made by an individual to six people to hang up his election posters ahead of the 2016 general election.
The minister said he had believed the services were voluntary, but has learned in recent weeks that they were paid for, to the value of €917.
Mr Donohoe also admitted to learning in 2017 that a corporate van had been used to hang up posters, worth an estimated €140, which had not been declared as an election expense.
The minister apologised for the error, and said he had made a submission to amend his official expenses declaration.
He has also argued that the expenses are within rules on maximum expenses allowed during a general election campaign.
Ethics watchdog Sipo is reviewing the matter, with Mr Donohoe saying he would consider the consequences after a decision is made.
Mr Donohoe has also recused himself from making decisions on ethics legislation and Sipo, which he is in charge of as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
Government ministers have backed their colleague, arguing that he has explained his actions and that the matter lies with Sipo.
On Monday, opposition party whips wrote a letter to Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghail asking that Mr Donohoe appear before the Dáil “at the earliest opportunity” to make a statement, and to take questions over his failure to declare poster expenses.
As it stands, the minister is already scheduled to take parliamentary questions at 10.30am on Thursday.
Sinn Féin’s public expenditure spokesperson Mairead Farrell argued that the donation was not within the maximum limits, and that it should not have been accepted.
“The minister must come clean and thoroughly answer all of the outstanding issues,” she said.
The three-party coalition Government has stumbled into the new year, after junior enterprise minister Damien English was forced to resign following revelations that he did not declare already owning a property in a planning application to Meath County Council.
Another junior minister for enterprise, Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy, resigned in August after he did not correctly declare properties on the parliamentary register of members’ interests, nor register a rented property with the Residential Tenancies Board.
Following an underwhelming reshuffle in December, the Government is focusing on responding to the escalating housing crisis, after five consecutive months of record-breaking homeless numbers, rising house prices and unaffordable rents.
Efforts to bolster supply have been squeezed further by a slowdown in commencements and the influx of thousands of Ukrainian nationals and other asylum seekers fleeing to Ireland.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he understands how the housing sector is holding the country back “in so many different ways”, and pledged that 2023 would be “a year of delivery when it comes to housing”.
Among the other challenging issues the Government is facing are hospitals buckling under unprecedented demand for emergency care; whether the Government will extend cost-of-living measures beyond February; and a “road map” on PRSI increases needed over the next 10 years, which is due after the Government committed to keeping the pension age at 66.