Aggressive fundraising drive boosts SF war chest
Despite claims of pressure, party can now rival FG's election pot
SINN Fein has amassed a multi-million euro electoral war chest from an aggressive international fundraising campaign in Ireland, the US, Canada and Australia.
An examination by the Sunday Independent of accounts filed by the party for the past two years showed how its funding now threatens to rival the €2.25m Fine Gael claims to have at its disposal for the general election campaign, which will get under way following the dissolution of the Dail this Tuesday.
In the US alone, statements lodged with the US Department of Justice reveal how the Friends of Sinn Fein Inc received a total of $1.153m (€847,000) in donations in the period between November 2008 and November 2010.
News of Sinn Fein's swollen coffers will deal a further blow to a beleaguered and debt-laden Fianna Fail as it battles under its newly appointed leader, Micheal Martin, to avoid being wiped out at the polls.
According to Sinn Fein's US accounts, donations were drawn from a wide variety of individual and corporate donors, many of whom attended fundraising dinners at which the party's president Gerry Adams was the host and keynote speaker.
On November 4 last, for instance, Mr Adams -- who is due to contest the forthcoming election as a candidate in the Louth constituency -- was billed as the host for Sinn Fein's annual $500 per plate fundraiser at the exclusive Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers in the heart of Manhattan.
The image of the New York dinner and cocktail reception would appear to be at odds with Sinn Fein's claimed proletarian values. It would also seem to jar somewhat with Donegal South West TD Pearse Doherty's contention only last week that his party is under "serious financial pressure" as the election looms.
Asked on Newstalk 106's Breakfast show last Wednesday morning how much money was available to fight the upcoming electoral campaign, Mr Doherty -- who is the party's finance spokesman -- said he didn't even think Sinn Fein had "a quarter" of the €1m the Labour Party claims to have set aside.
"I was told the figure, I don't recall. I was told the figure recently, in terms of [funding] centrally, obviously. In my own campaign, we're doing fundraisers and raffles at the minute, but centrally it's very, very small and we're under serious pressure financially in the party centrally," Mr Doherty said.
Outside of the US, the Friends of Sinn Fein (Canada) or Les Ami(e) Du Sinn Fein (Canada), as they are referred to in the French-speaking regions, are also heavily involved in fundraising for the party organisation.
Details of just how much money has been raised by Sinn Fein's Canadian branch are almost impossible to quantify, given the organisation's official status as a "not-for-profit organisation".
As a result of that status -- granted by the Canadian Ministry for Industry -- the Friends of Sinn Fein (Canada) is not obliged to make the details contained in their financial accounts publicly available.
The organisation is still required to file annual returns with the Canadian revenue commissioners, however.
Closer to home, the latest available financial statements for Sinn Fein in the North, filed with the UK's electoral commission, show the party had an accumulated fund of £257,265 (€299,485) on December 31, 2009.
According to the same report, the party received donations of £462,856 (€538,708) in 2009 alone. It is entirely possible that a significant portion of these donations were received from the party's elected representatives from their salaries, although this is not specified in the report.
Interestingly, the documents filed with the UK's electoral commission for 2009 outline the party's political activities for that year in what it refers to as the "26 counties".
According to this summary, besides taking part in the "significant political campaigns" of the local and European elections, Sinn Fein "presented costed, effective policies as an alternative to the economic policies which have produced the economic recession.
"We opposed the approach of those who champion toxic banking and Nama," the report states, before adding how Sinn Fein had "mapped out a way to kick-start the economy."