How Sinn Fein pays for its large party structure out of public money…

Interesting coda to Sinn Fein’s last minute fall off the high wire at Dublin’s High Court. It looks like the Referendum Commission is not going to let it lie and are chasing Pearse Doherty for costs. The Irish Times reports:

The Referendum Commission has argued before the High Court it was “inconceivable” that Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty remained unaware of a second statement it issued concerning Ireland’s veto over the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was aware of that second statement issued in the run-up to the referendum, counsel for the commission said.

The costs are thought to be in the region of €200,000.

If he’d been alone in this challenge, it would be a stretch for Doherty. As reported by Gerard Cunningham he only retains €29170 of his €48213.17 net salary, the rest being paid to a constituency worker in Donegal. We might also surmise from his Cork East colleague Sandra McLellan that the vast bulk of his €57550.63 in TD expenses goes straight to the party, to deliver him centralised services from people directly employed by the party.

You can see from this recent release of TDs expenses (scroll down) that Sinn Fein TDs draw expenses of around €30k in Dublin constituencies and €50K outside the capital (Peadar Toibin in Meath East is somewhere in between).

Since the bulk of the TD’s representative resources are soaked up by the party it will be them rather than Doherty who pays for any High Court judgement. And there’s a similar system at work in Northern Ireland too.

As the Belfast Telegraph pointed out on Wednesday the resignation of four out of its five MP/MLAs was actually based upon the pressing need to maintain this massive substructure arising from recent reforms in Stormont’s funding regime:

A redrafting of expenses by the Report of the Independent Financial Review Panel will progressively reduce the average £70,000 in office expenses MLAs receive.

If the Assembly member is also an MP they received 50% back but that was already cut to 37.5% in April – some £27,594 – with further payouts being reduced to 25% next year and to just 12.5% the following year.

With four of Sinn Fein’s MLAs quitting the Assembly to focus on their MP duties at Westminster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness quitting as an MP the party will benefit from five full Office Costs Expenses allowances.

This goes someway to explain an annual party turnover of something in the region of £1.2 million pa in Northern Ireland alone.

If Doherty’s constituency worker is a guide few if any of these workers are drawing down anything other than very modest salaries.

Given Ms McLelland has talked so openly (which is highly uncharacteristic for any SF public rep) to the press about the hardship she has encountered under such a tight regime it indicates that such low earnings are, as the party starts to expand, beginning to cause some strain.

Yet from a purely public interest point of view, the real problem with this whole party run understructure remains as unaccountable as the actual use those print cartridges released to the offices of Aenghus O’Snodaigh and Pat Doherty were put to.

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