Business Irish

Saturday 23 September 2017

For politics' sake, may the giving hand never falter

Nick Webb and Eoghan Williams

A LIST of rich political donors once read like a Who's Who of Irish property developers. Indeed, Fianna Fail's house magazine, The Nation, was at one point so stuffed with ads from friendly builders that it was a Who's Who of property tycoons -- with a dash of soft FF propaganda tacked on.

The ads must have more than covered printing costs. The surplus surely provided another revenue stream for the party, alongside its tent at the Galway Races and more direct cash payments.

An annual list of political donations is filed with the Standards in Public Office Commission each year. The returns give an insight into the political leanings of some of the country's most prominent and wealthy businesspeople. Donations to Fianna Fail have been -- unsurprisingly -- dominated by the builders and property developers.

Nama 'names' Paddy McKillen and Gerry Gannon were donors to the party -- both were also named as part of the Anglo golden circle. Johnny Ronan's Treasury Holdings and associated companies have also been a major donor -- primarily to Fianna Fail -- in recent years.

However Fine Gael's Jim O'Keeffe received ¿2,500 from Treasury Holdings in 2007 and a further ¿2,500 from the Spencer Dock company the same year.

Developers Ken Rohan and Noel Smyth have also donated to Fianna Fail candidates, according to the SIPO filings.

Bill Cullen's Glencullen Distributors donated ¿2,500 to Mary Hanafin in 2007, with Trinity Biotech's Ronan O'Caoimh also backing Fianna Fail's Joe Behan.

Poker-playing carpet king Noel Furlong donated ¿1,358 to Sean O'Feargail, with Michael Kelly's technology group Fineos giving ¿1,500 to Micheal Martin in 2007.

Large donations to Fianna Fail itself are thin on the ground, with most donations going to candidates. John Boyle's bookmaking firm Boylesports did give ¿6,300 to Fianna Fail, with Mosney Irish Holidays also giving ¿5,500.

Fine Gael and other parties don't have prominent backers, although the Barry's Tea family gave over ¿4,000 to Cork TD Deirdre Clune -- herself part of the family. U2 manager Paul McGuinness donated ¿2,500 to Fine Gael's Andrew Doyle, while Fexco founder and Kerry entrepreneur Brian McCarthy donated ¿1,000 to Jackie Healy-Rae according to the filings.

Irish multi-millionaires are also active in supporting British politicians. Ed Haughey, a one-time Fianna Fail appointee to the Senate but now an Ulster Unionist in the House of Lords, once held the record as the biggest donor to the Conservative Party. Haughey, now Lord Ballyedmond, has donated over ¿1m and counting.

He has previously allowed the Tories to use a helicopter -- reportedly his preferred mode of transport between his castles in Rostrevor, Co Down, and Cumbria. Haughey, who owns Newry-based veterinary drugs firm Norbrook and Haughey Air, also owns two islands on Lake Victoria, Uganda.

Dermot Desmond, billionaire owner of Celtic FC, owns a stake in UK firm Venson Automotive Solutions, which donated £50,000 to the Conservative Party.

Sean Mulryan, of Ballymore Properties fame, and Paddy Kelly own Markland Holdings (UK), which has given ¿100,000 to the Conservative Party.

Donegal-born Sir Gerry Robinson, former chairman of Granada TV, has given ¿70,000 to the British Labour Party, as well as appearing in a party political broadcast. However, he has since expressed concerns about Gordon Brown's leadership abilities.

Airtricity, which at the time was run by Eddie O'Connor, has given a donation of ¿5,000 to the Scottish Labour Party.

Irish companies have also been heavily involved in funding presidential, senate and congressional candidates in the United States.

Under the helm of Liam O'Mahony -- the new chairman of the IDA -- industrial giant CRH was very active in funding US politicians through the political action committee (PAC) of its US subsidiary Oldcastle. The group has raised over $1m for politial donations since 2002, although not all of the money has been allocated.

When under the control of Michael Smurfit, the Smurfit Group donated $10,000 to the Republican party through its US operation's political action group.

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