A party celebrating Justice Minister Helen McEntee’s first election to the Dáil was held in Tayto Park, according to a report in today’s Irish Independent,
Ms McEntee’s constituency organisation charged supporters €15 entry fee to the event, which was billed as “celebrating the election” of the first-time TD in the Meath East by-election in 2013.
Details of the ticketed event come after it emerged the minister was forced to return most of a €4,200 political donation to Tayto Park owner Ray Coyle’s companies, as it was in breach of Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) guidelines.
Yesterday, Ms McEntee clarified that she assisted the businessman during the Covid-19 pandemic by offering him guidance on social distancing restrictions.
Her comments came after she first said she had never assisted Mr Coyle through her ministerial or constituency office.
Now it has emerged an event was hosted in her honour in the Meath businessman’s amusement park on May 24, 2013.
Tickets for the event said there would be refreshments, and local act The McGarry Brothers provided music.
Ms McEntee’s supporters were charged €15 for tickets, but members of Young Fine Gael were refunded €5 on the door. In the days before the party on May 3,
Ms McEntee issued a statement through the Fine Gael press office about a Meath community initiative in which she noted the success of Mr Coyle’s amusement park.
“Tayto Park has been a huge success, with thousands of visitors every year, but there is clearly a need to entice more of these people into the town itself,” she said.
The minister’s spokesperson said the event was organised by the Meath East constituency.
“The minister has been told by Meath East Fine Gael that the proceeds of the event covered the costs of the event,” he added.
Separately, the minister has posted photographs of herself at Tayto Park on social media on two occasions.
Ms. McEntee’s spokesperson said she did not have to pay entrance fees as she was invited to the park in her “capacity as a local TD”.
Three companies owned by Mr. Coyle made donations of €1,400 each to Ms. McEntee’s election campaign just before voting day on February 4, 2020.
The donations were in breach of Sipo rules on political donations and Ms. McEntee was forced to hand back the majority of the money.
Sipo rules require politicians to return donations that do not meet the guidelines within two weeks of receipt of the money.
However, Ms McEntee did not return the money until almost a year later in January 2021.
Sipo’s guidelines say a failure to take “appropriate action” on a “donation in excess of the maximum prescribed limit” can be punished with a fine of up to €2,500.
Mr. Coyle said the decision to use three of his companies to make the donation had “nothing whatsoever” to do with Ms. McEntee; rather, it came from “in-house” advice he received from his business.
The businessman said he gave the money to Ms. McEntee because she is his local TD and he believes she is doing a good job for the constituency.
The minister’s spokesperson said the €4,200 was accepted due to a “misunderstanding” in her constituency office about the allowable donation limits for companies.
In a subsequent statement, the minister said representations were made to her by Tayto Park and Mr Raymond Coyle concerning clarity on Covid restrictions.
“In the course of her work as a TD for Meath East, during Covid-19 Minister McEntee was regularly contacted by many constituents, companies, organisations and community groups seeking clarity and guidance on Covid regulations,” a spokesperson added.