Paschal Donohoe has failed to explain the management of the company owned by Leo Varadkar’s former assistant

Embattled Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe failed to explain that he was a director of a company set up by Leo Varadkar’s former assistant because “both companies were one and the same,” it has been claimed.

Entrepreneur Tom Ponsonby claimed that Mr Donohoe’s failure to declare a corporate governance in 2009 and 2010, when he was Fine Gael Senator, was “understandable” in a statement unusually made by Mr Donohoe’s ministerial spokesman this afternoon.

Mr Ponsonby is a long-time supporter of Fine Gael, whose LinkedIn profile says he was a parliamentary assistant to Mr Varadkar, the Taoiseach, when he was an opposition TD between 2007 and 2008.

Mr Donohoe did not list his position as director of Mr Ponsonby’s ExSite Politics, which operated his website and blog, in the Seanad Register of Members’ Interests in 2009 and 2010, only listing his position as director of ExSite Communications . TDs and Senators are legally required to declare all corporate directors in accordance with state ethics laws.

Through a spokesman, Mr Donohoe said he “had not benefited in any way from serving on the board”. He was a member of the board, his spokesman later said, “due to his previous business experience, which it was believed could be of use to Mr. Ponsonby in establishing his start-up”.

Amid the confusion over why he was listed as a director of two companies, of which he had only stated one, Mr Donohoe said he had contacted Mr Ponsonby, ExSite’s chief executive and creative director, about the matter.

Mr Ponsonby was contacted by today and asked to explain the matter. Within hours, Mr Donohoe’s spokesman, a taxpayer-funded government adviser, made the statement on behalf of Mr Ponsonby.

“While Exsite Communications and Exsite Politics were two different companies, in practice there was no real distinction between them,” the statement said.

“The sole function of Exsite Politics was to isolate public affairs clients from commercial ones in case one day decided to go in a different direction.

“It is understandable that the Minister took the view that both companies were one and the same when the reference was used within the meetings held and our obligation was always to use only the term Exsite.”

Mr Donohoe has come under fire in recent days for failing to declare donations from businessman Michael Stone, who paid thousands of euros to put up Mr Donohoe’s posters at Dublin Central in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Mr Donohoe told the Dáil yesterday afternoon that he would return an unauthorized corporate donation made by Mr Stone to his constituency organization in 2020.

The controversy has forced the minister to step back from accountability for ethics laws and reforms to the Commission on Standards in Public Offices, which is now examining complaints against him.

Ahead of his Dáil statement, which did not address the issue of company directors, and following the publication of a story by The Ditch – which revealed the two company directors – Mr Donohoe said yesterday that he had “served for nine months on the board of a company called Exsite, which was a start-up 14 years ago.” Paschal Donohoe has failed to explain the management of the company owned by Leo Varadkar’s former assistant

Fry Electronics Team

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