Saturday 23 September 2017

Row as Fine Gael accused of 'cash for access' scheme

Joan Burton Photo: Tom Burke
Joan Burton Photo: Tom Burke
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Fine Gael has been accused of embarking on a "cash for access" scheme for ministers.

Former tánaiste Joan Burton suggested Fine Gael may be flouting its promise laid down in the Programme for Government by encouraging its ministers to ramp up fundraising efforts.

The claims led to a bitter clash of words between the Labour TD and Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Ms Burton earlier told the Dáil that a number of newspapers, including the Irish Independent, revealed that Fine Gael ministers were told to organise more functions.

These include the staging of breakfasts and lunches in order to reduce the party's debt.

"Now that smacks of cash for access," Ms Burton told the Dáil.

"In terms of the Programme for Government's determination to try and limit corruption in this country, it's utterly wrong."

During heated exchanges, Ms Burton challenged the Taoiseach directly as to whether he was party to this meeting, which was also attended by the Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran and a number of the party's trustees.

"Taoiseach I want to know, were you party to this, were you at this pre-Cabinet meeting that decided on breakfast with Michael Noonan, and as it says in the papers, 'Lunch with Leo', and that is cash for access Taoiseach, no more and no less and it is utterly wrong," she said.

Mr Kenny said the claims were beneath Ms Burton "as a former tánaiste" to make such allegations.

"Don't be worried, deputy Burton, don't be worried," Mr Kenny said.

Corruption

"It is beneath you to put out an assertion that the Fine Gael party is somewhat involved in corruption."

Mr Kenny then said "you are pretty good at it yourself", in a reference to the organising of fundraisers.

This prompted demands by Ms Burton for Mr Kenny to withdraw the claims.

Fine Gael sources have insisted that the meeting was routine and focused on both staffing and finance issues.

One senior source said the party embarked on just three collections each year and that these were the only fundraisers organised by party headquarters.

Other fundraisers were organised voluntarily by each constituency, the source said.

Nonetheless, following the meeting, Fine Gael ministers said their expectations for an early election had heightened.

Irish Independent

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