17 May 2000
Sinn Fein backs ban on corporate funding of parties but says Labour Party Bill disenfranchises Six Counties and Irish Diaspora
Speaking in Leinster House on Wednesday 17 May 2000 to the 26-County Labour Party's Bill to ban corporate donations, Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that he supports the intent but he could not support the means proposed to achieve it. The Bill's effect would be to further disenfranchise Irish emigrants and members of the Irish diaspora around the world as well as Irish citizens in the Six Counties, the Sinn Fein deputy said.
Deputy Ó Caoláin supported a Government amendment to postpone a vote on Labour's Bill until an all-party committee examines the Bill's proposal.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
``The core of the Bill is the provision to restrict donations to those from registered voters. In moving the Bill, Deputies Ruairi Quinn and Eamonn Gilmore made clear that one of its purposes was to ban donations from people outside Ireland. Deputy Quinn referred to `the continued distortion in the political process caused by overseas fund-raising'. Deputy Gilmore spoke in similar terms.
``Blinded by their obvious concerns at the advances achieved and projected for Sinn Fein, the proposers of this legislation have apparently lost sight of their stated objective. It is supposed to target corporate donations and that is how it has been presented in the media.
``It also proposes to ban donations from overseas. This is a separate and distinct issue but it is included here apparently in the belief that the banning of such donations would damage Sinn Fein.
``I totally reject the assertion that donations to Sinn Fein or any other party - including the Labour Party, which has not been so successful in this regard - by people in the United States or elsewhere distort the political process. It is well known that Sinn Fein raises considerable funds in the US, Australia and elsewhere. We do so in the US under the most rigorous regulations. The Friends of Sinn Fein organisation must file a record of all monies collected, the names and addresses of each donation of 50 dollars or more, and an account of all expenditures, including amounts remitted to Ireland recorded with the US Justice Department every six months.
``This Bill would deny Irish emigrants - already denied the opportunity to vote - and members of the Irish diaspora in the United States the right to contribute to the political party of their choice. These are not corporate donations. By definition, the donors cannot have any vested interest or hope of personal advantage in contributing to Sinn Fein. The vast majority of such donations are small sums from supporters of the party's peace strategy. Many are from people who had to emigrate from this country in the 1980s, young people at that time denied a future because of the gross mismanagement of the economy and the resultant endemic employment. It was the absence of that and previous generations of young people which, to adapt the words of Deputy Quinn, distorted the political process.
``Corporate funding of political parties needs to be stopped. It is scandalous that parties have been bankrolled by banks and other financial institutions and big business. Such a relationship has not just bought individual votes in council chambers; it has ensured government policies which favour big business above all else with banks free to fleece their customers and with the lowest corporation tax in Europe.
``The Bill, however, as presented, is deeply flawed. I cannot support its central provision which confines donations to registered voters only. The absurdity of it all is that my party leader could not make a contribution to my campaign at the next general election. It is absolutely ludicrous.
``The legislation needs to be reshaped. The commitment in the Government amendment to comprehensively address the issue and to introduce considered legislation before the year is out is both welcome and worthy of support. Having clearly stated my support for legislation which will end the corporate funding of political parties, I look forward to the consultative process to be undertaken by the, as yet to be appointed, all-party committee, the report of which will be available by 30 September. We will then have the opportunity to examine fully comprehensive legislation, hopefully through the efforts of all parties in this House, including Sinn Fein. Tonight, in accordance with that, I will support the Government amendment.''
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