Sinn Féin TDs are proud of their record as politicians unsullied by financial motives, and regularly point to the fact that, along with Socialist MEP Joe Higgins, they do not take the full salary they are entitled to, choosing instead to live on the average industrial wage.
The basic salary for a TD starts at €92,672, rising to €95,550 after seven years, and €98,424 after ten years service. This does not take into account extra payments made to party leaders, committee chairs, and expenses.
According to the Central Statistics Office, average weekly earnings in 2010 (third quarter) across all sectors amounted to €685.10. Over a year, this would come to a total of €35,625.20.
In the private sector, the figure is €607.56, while in the public sector the figure is €902.54.
Going on what the Sinn Féin TDs have said, this means each of them ought to have donated about €60,000 (less tax?) to Sinn Féin every year. However, the maximum allowable donation to a political party in one year is é6348.69.
Standards in Public Office (SIPO) is still preparing its 2010 figures, but the 2009 figures show donations to Sinn Féin of only é6,000 from each of its four TDs, Caoimghín O’Caoláin, Arthur Morgan, Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Martin Ferris.
So where does the rest of the money go?
“There’s a donation to the party which is €6,000, which is the maximum anybody can donate to the party, and then the rest goes into constituency services such as hiring people to work in a constituency office, to provide services for the constituents, running the office,” a Sinn Féin spokesman said.
“It’s an office which is providing services for constituents in the constituency.
“Is it a Sinn Féin office?”
“It is, yes.”
“It’s all above board with SIPO and all that,” the spokesman added.
But a spokesman for SIPO said they could find no advice to Sinn Féin on the issue.
“It is clear that the maximum that the party can accept is €6348.69,” a SIPO spokesman said.
“They could be contributing to multiple candidates, but if that’s the case, they’d have to declare that. Under section 24 of the Electoral Act, if you contribute to a party or one of more of its members, the donor then has to declare. That would be a way of contributing more than the limit.”
In other words, each TD could legally donate up €2539.48 to each Sinn Féin councillor and election candidate, in addition to their contribution to the party.
“But that would also have to be declared, and I’ve never seen any such declaration,” the SIPO spokesman said.
However, the SIPO spokesperson said that the limit only applied to donations within the state, and donations made to the organisation in Northern Ireland would not have to be declared.