Fionnan Sheahan: Gallagher is aligned with Fianna Fail of the past
Published 21/10/2011 | 05:00
THE Galway tent was abolished once Brian Cowen became leader of Fianna Fail, but the culture didn't change in the party.
The high-profile racecourse marquee was replaced by low-key discreet gatherings in hotels where businessmen were invited to hand over €5,000 a head.
On the first night of July 2008, a select group of businessmen from the north-east region gathered in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dundalk. Among the 40 men present were business figures from the retail, hotels, property and food sectors in the area.
According to a source, those in attendance joked "the fundraiser was an alternative to the Galway tent which was cancelled by Cowen earlier that year".
Presidential election candidate Sean Gallagher was there. He invited a number of business associates to attend the event. He passed on details of other businessmen in the region to Fianna Fail headquarters to contact.
The guests with the lucrative cheques had direct access to then Taoiseach Brian Cowen, just weeks after he had become leader of the country.
Gallagher sees nothing wrong with such fundraisers where the cosy links between big business and politics are fostered.
After the Irish Independent revealed his involvement in the organisation of the event yesterday, he endeavoured to play down his role.
Not once did he say he saw anything wrong with the fundraiser.
His morals are still aligned firmly to the Fianna Fail of the past where dig-outs and dinners were acceptable.
Rooted in the old Fianna Fail tradition, of the Taca scheme of the 1960s and the acceptance of corporate donations in Dublin hotel rooms in the 1980s, Gallagher sees no evil, hears no evil, speaks no evil.
He convinces himself that because he didn't directly ask for the money, he has no question to answer.
Gallagher simply invited business associates to a fundraiser, where they would just happen to be asked to donate €5,000.
The contempt with which he treats the public with this explanation, lacking in any integrity, is truly astonishing.
Just because he didn't physically collect the money in a bag doesn't mean he didn't know exactly what was going on.
Gallagher portrays himself as a fellah who brings an alcoholic to a bar in a brewery -- but doesn't tell them to take a drink.
Pleadings of innocence are nothing new among Gallagher's friends in old school Fianna Fail.
Bertie Ahern received loans and gifts from businessmen.
Cowen went playing golf and had dinner with Anglo Irish Bank bosses, but never discussed the fortunes of the bank.
Bertie Ahern's buddy, Michael Wall, went to dinners but didn't eat the meal.
Gallagher went to the dinner but didn't hand over any money or ask for any money.
Claiming to be just an ordinary grassroots member of Fianna Fail, he fails to recognise many of the party's ordinary grassroots members had no time for these types of fundraising activities, which have enormously damaged the reputation of the party.
Not Sean Gallagher.
He claims the event wasn't secret, yet its existence was never publicised and is only emerging now because of his presidential election campaign.
His efforts to be an everyman figure for the economic recovery are steadily crumbling as his past comes under greater scrutiny.
He is more interested in the glossy photoshoots and the sound bites than being clear in his answers.
The entrepreneur, who was also a community worker, has built up an edifice as a compassionate listener. He embarked on a "listening tour" of the country.
Sitting around the dinner table with his business associates on July 1, 2008, what did Gallagher hear?
The following day went down in history as 'Cowen's Black Wednesday'.
After dining with 40 businessmen, who were asked to donate €5,000 a head to Fianna Fail, Cowen told the nation the government had to "cut our cloth to meet our measure".
A dramatic shortfall in taxes meant the government was going to have to borrow more.
Cowen said to the public there was no painless or easy formula to stay within budget spending limits.
He believed the Irish economy was capable of weathering the current economic storm.
Savings needed to be made to meet increased social welfare spending, as a result of lengthening dole queues.
The Exchequer returns for the first half of 2008 showed tax take was already nearly €1.5bn down so far in the year, with the final figure expected to be €3bn behind target.
Ministers have to cut €500m from their spending plans to pay for increased dole payments.
Compounding the pressures on householders, the following day the European Central Bank increased interest rates by a 0.25pc, further driving up mortgage costs.
The economic downturn was well under way and would result in the country losing its sovereignty with the arrival of the IMF/EU two and a half years later -- all under Fianna Fail's watch.
Cowen was still interested in lining the party's pockets.
Sean Gallagher was helping him and saw nothing wrong.
And now he wants to be president.