SIPO concealed from the public and Oireachtas false donation statements submitted by taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
SIPO only admitted the undisclosed donation statements existed after The Ditch took judicial review proceedings in the High Court against the state ethics watchdog. The ethics commission did this with two separate statements for two different years – for Varadkar’s donations for both 2022 and 2018.
Justice Niamh Hyland in the High Court this morning granted The Ditch an order quashing SIPO’s decision to refuse access to Varadkar’s 2022 donation statement. SIPO, which consented to the order, will also have to pay The Ditch’s legal costs.
Last year People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy began judicial review proceedings against SIPO over its decision to not investigate Leo Varadkar’s leaking of a confidential document to his friend. The case is listed for a two-day hearing in the High Court next week.
This was the first time that SIPO admitted the documents’ existence
The Ditch in August last year reported that SIPO was probing undeclared donations received by taoiseach Leo Varadkar in 2018 and 2022.
On August 17, 2023, The Ditch wrote to SIPO seeking a copy of Varadkar’s 2022 donation statement.
The following day SIPO refused the request.
It did so even though it was obliged to release the donation statements under electoral law. SIPO wrongly claimed it couldn’t release Varadkar’s donation statement until it had been reviewed by TDs and senators – until it had been “laid before both houses of the Oireachtas”.
The Ditch replied the following day warning SIPO that it was breaching electoral law and that the commission would be the subject of judicial review proceedings in the High Court.
SIPO responded in early September with further excuses for not releasing Varadkar’s donation statement.
“Statements received by the commission are reviewed to monitor adherence with all associated obligations. If inspection access was permitted at this juncture in the process, it would hamper the commission’s ability to properly complete its compliance function,” wrote a SIPO spokesperson.
In November 2023 The Ditch brought judicial review proceedings and on 11 December that year was granted permission by the High Court to challenge SIPO’s decision.
Because The Ditch brought these proceedings, SIPO finally, on 19 January, sent The Ditch’s solicitors Varadkar’s donation statements for 2022.
There were three – and they were contradictory. This was the first time that SIPO admitted that Varadkar had submitted more than one statement for that year – having first suppressed the two extra 2022 statements.
In fact, just weeks earlier, SIPO had furnished both houses of the Oireachtas with a single, undated, copy of the November 2023 version of Varadkar’s 2022 donation statement.
In submitting just this third statement, SIPO had hidden two earlier false statements.
SIPO had concealed the fact that before the third and final statement, Varadkar had submitted two false 2022 donation statements in January and August 2023 in which he failed to declare a prohibited political donation from businessman Ray Power.
Another year, another hidden statement
SIPO went on to disclose, separately, on its website that Varadkar had submitted another false statement for 2018. In this false statement the taoiseach failed to declare three other donations.
It became clear after The Ditch’s legal challenge that SIPO had published a document to give the appearance that Varadkar had come clean about these three 2018 donations after a second attempt in 2023.
This wasn’t the case.
The Ditch wrote to SIPO and pressured it to reveal how many donation statements it had received from Varadkar for that year.
SIPO finally disclosed it had received two extra donation statements in 2023, for Varadkar’s 2018 donations, from the taoiseach and provided copies to The Ditch.
These copies of the two additional declarations showed that the document SIPO uploaded to its website last month was misleading. SIPO had published a single donation statement to make it seem Varadkar had admitted to all three 2018 donations in a single second statement.
In reality however he did not give a true account of his donations until he submitted yet another statement to SIPO in late November 2023.