Tuesday, 21 February 1995
Dáil Éireann Debate
11. Mr. Molloy asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications if any of the semi-State bodies for which he is responsible have made direct or indirect financial contributions to any political party in the past three years; if so, if he will give details regarding these contributions, including the amounts paid and the name of each party; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3762/95]
Mr. Lowry: Before I give the Deputy a specific answer to the question I want to make an important point on the policy I have laid down as Minister. While I am Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, I will not permit the semi-State companies under my control to make any financial contribution, directly or indirectly, to any political party.
Semi-State bodies under my aegis have not made direct contributions to political parties in the past three years but the ESB took up entertainment facilities promoted by the Fianna Fáil Party at the Galway Races in July 1994.
Mr. Lowry: The cost payable for  those facilities was £4,800. In order to test the ESB's position in regard to other parties in the context of this precedent set by the board's actions my party forwarded an information leaflet on a golf classic. I understand that the ESB was represented by a team in this event at a cost of £500. I understand that the ESB also participated in a similar Labour Party event. There was no mention of the Progressive Democrats in regard to participation in golf classics. On the question of any material benefits arising from participation in such a classic to any particular party the fee of £500 covers green fees, hospitality and dinner.
Mr. Lowry: I must, however, emphasise that the ESB does not and has not made contributions directly to any party. Nonetheless I have instructed the ESB, as well as the other semi-State agencies under my aegis, that I am strictly forbidding indirect contributions to political parties. I have no wish to be a killjoy or to impact on any event which can be proven to have a business benefit but it is reasonable to exclude fund raising activities from this scenario. I have decided to forbid any contributions to social activities organised by political parties which in effect amount to indirect contributions to those parties.
Mr. Molloy: I welcome the Minister's statement that he has issued an instruction to each of the semi-State bodies under his aegis that they are not to make any contribution, directly or indirectly, to political parties. I regret that it took a question from the Progressive Democrats to bring this about. Does the Minister agree that it was highly inappropriate for his party, Fine Gael, and for Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party to solicit funds from a semi-State organisation? Am I to take it from his statement that he regrets having solicited funds from these organisations and that he accepts it was wrong to do  so? He owes this House and the public an apology. It was made clear in reply to earlier questions that some of these organisations are heavily in debt. It is outrageous that they allocated funds to political parties.
Mr. Lowry: In his fury the Deputy will recognise and acknowledge that there is a huge difference between participation in a golf classic and forwarding £4,800 to cover the cost of facilities at an event.
Mr. Lowry: Unfortunately for the Deputy I cannot allow him to command the high moral ground. I have been Minister for only eight weeks and I have already taken this course of action. The Deputy will recall that it was not unusual when he was Minister for the semi-State sector to fund golf classics.
Mr. Molloy: That is outrageous. At no time when I was Minister was I aware that any semi-State organisation acted in such a fashion. I am surprised that on the one hand the Minister is seeking to condone what his and other parties have been involved in and on the other is condemning it.
Mr. Lowry: My actions speak louder than words. I have taken action already; I have written to the chairman of the commercial State bodies. The letter is precise and detailed and it sends a clear message that this practice is to be discontinued.
Mr. Molloy: In order to show his goodwill and his serious intent will the Minister return the taxpayers' money to the semi-State organisation which sent the cheque to Fine Gael? I make the same appeal to Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party.
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