Fine Gael spent €3m on election but ‘saved party from greater seat loss’

Fine Gael’s director of elections has staunchly defended his party’s 2016 general election bill, saying its ballot box wipeout would have been even worse if it did not spend almost 40% more than any other party.

Fine Gael spent €3m on election but ‘saved party from greater seat loss’

MEP Brian Hayes made the controversial claim after it emerged the Government party spent almost €3m on market research, publicity, advertising and other strategies during last year’s damaging campaign.

Details revealed in the 21-page dossier by Ireland’s political finances watchdog, the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), show Fine Gael spent €2.76m on last year’s election.

The rate includes €250,000 on market research behind the now discredited “keep the recovery going” campaign slogan, €232,194 on publicity, €440,480 on advertising and €136,556 on posters.

The budget is 40% higher than next nearest rival, Fianna Fáil, which spent €1.687m during the same campaign, including €47,105 on publicity, €27,393 on advertising and €145,891 on posters. Nothing was spent on market research.

However, despite the fact the expenditure relates to an election which saw Fine Gael’s TD numbers plummet from 76 in 2011 to just 50, plunging the Dáil into a three-month stand-off and forcing it into an unprecedented confidence and supply deal with Fianna Fáil, the party’s director of elections last night defended the spend involved.

“Had we not spent that amount of money we could have found ourselves with an even worse outcome, we could have lost even more seats,” MEP Brian Hayes told the Irish Examiner.

“Into the future it [the amount of money spent] has to be reviewed, but none of the parties in the future will spend as much money because it simply won’t be available if there’s an election in two years’ time, one year’s time or whatever.”

Asked about ongoing criticism of the €250,000 spend on market research behind the now discredited “keep the recovery going” slogan, Mr Hayes said the view was “trite” as “one slogan does not encompass the research done”.

The spending defence is unlikely to limit the anger of internal party critics, who have repeatedly questioned last year’s campaign strategy, amid suggestions senior officials should be removed from their positions.

While Fine Gael last summer concluded two reviews into where the 2016 race went wrong, its findings have been questioned by current and former TDs.

Meanwhile, the same Sipo report has also found that:

  • Labour spent €1.083m on the election, including €16,106 on market research, €44,083 on publicity, €212,705 on advertising and €112,136 on posters;
  • Sinn Féin spent €650,190 including €3,721 on publicity, €18,253 on advertising and €15,885 on posters. Nothing was spent on market research;
  • AAA-PBP spent €266,942, including €1,294 on publicity, €307 on advertising and €3,376 on posters, nothing was spent on market research;
  • The Social Democrats spent €190,586, including €18,409 on publicity and €1,623 on posters. The party did not spend on market research or advertising;
  • The Greens spent €146,792, including €1,528 on publicity. The party did not spend on market research, advertising and posters;
  • Renua spent €286,230, including, €16,739 on publicity, €3,086 on advertising and €375 on posters. It did not spend on market research.

The figures emerged as a separate Sipo report referred Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly and 65 other candidates to the gardaí over campaign donation issues.

Dr Reilly was unable to prove he gave back €800 to a donor who had provided him with €1,000 for his campaign, despite the Sipo cash limit being €200.

“I put my hands up, I forgot to give a receipt,” the now senator said yesterday.

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