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Big business donations switching to FG/Labour

WITH Fianna Fail almost certain to be mangled in the upcoming election, Fine Gael and Labour are odds-on to lead the next government. But who will be the key influencers and who will have the ear of the new political powerhouses?

Rogue solicitor Thomas Byrne, the Walkinstown lawyer whose practice was shut down in 2007 over massive financial irregularities, donated €6,000 to the Labour Party at the height of the boom, according to the party's disclosure to the Standards in Public Office (Sipo) Commission in 2006.

Revelations of the donation by the Walkinstown solicitor were highly embarrassing as his practice imploded with debts of €40m after a complex mortgage scheme collapsed.

It later emerged that the Labour Party wrote to the Law Society asking what it should do with the donation from the solicitor.

The party also wrote to the Standards in Public Office commission, but was told that it was not a matter for the quango. The money has been spent.

Fine Gael has got some serious wonga for the fight ahead. "We're in a healthy financial situation in FG," agreed FG's director of elections Phil Hogan last week.

The party is thought to have collected a fighting fund of well over €1m (and possibly as much as €3m) fuelled by national draws over the last two years.

Hogan said that suggestions that corporate donations were switching from FF to FG in big numbers were just "overstated spin".

But Hogan need only look at the register of political donations over the last four or so years to see some of the richest and most powerful businessmen in the country who have been donating to the party and its election candidates.

'There are even signs of people who have been considered traditional Fianna Fail supporters coming in to donate to FG'

Arthur Cox, the blue-chip law firm headed by Brian Cowen's close pal Eugene McCague, strayed from its FF tendencies by donating €1,000 to FG firebrand Lucinda Creighton's campaign in 2007. The law firm was appointed by the FF-led government to advise on the banking crisis without a competitive tender in late 2008. So far the practice has netted €11m in fees from the State.

John Cronin's McCann FitzGerald also coughed up €650 for a "golf classic" in aid of FG deputy leader Dr James Reilly. McCann FitzGerald also has a number of State contracts, including advising Nama. It has long-standing FG links as one of its founding partners, the late Alexis FitzGerald, was a FG senator in the Seventies.

County Quest, the vast North Dublin potato producer owned by the Hoey Brothers, also gave. Pat McGrath's PMI Group also chipped in to Reilly's golf classic.

Billionaire beef baron Larry Goodman donated €2,500 to FG MEP Sean Kelly's campaign in 2009. Digicel boss Denis O'Brien also supported the former GAA president who went on to be elected to the European Parliament in June 2009.

U2 manager Paul McGuinness gave €2,500 to Wicklow FG TD Andrew Doyle in 2007.

Cork TD Simon Coveney was also well supported by business. However, Greencore boss Patrick Coveney, who donated €1,500 to his campaign, is his elder brother. Cork yachtsman and well known architect Stephen Hyde of the Hyde Partnership was also a donor. Mallow builder John Barry's construction firm Castleland donated €2,500 to Coveney's campaign in 2007.

Other donors include Money Markets International, John Curran's money broking firm. Cork's Whitaker family, a merchant prince dynasty, chucked in another grand to Coveney, with the Ronan Daly Jermyn law firm also chipping in with €2,500. An adviser to Nama, Ronan Daly Jermyn is the largest law firm outside Dublin. The Purcell brothers' beef empire donated €1,000 in 2009.

Another beef baron, Dawn Meats and Arrow Group owner Peter Queally, donated €2,500 to FG senator Paudie Coffey in 2008. Coffey is standing for FG in the upcoming general election.

Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett's Treasury Holdings is one of the biggest developers to see its loans go into Nama. Treasury donated €2,500 to FG Cork South West TD Jim O'Keeffe. Ronan and Barrett's firm's Havenview and Spencer Dock Development Company both donated €2,500 to the former Minister for State. O'Keeffe has indicated that he will not stand in the upcoming poll.

Public relations firm Financial Dynamics handed over €1,000 to Labour MEP Alan Kelly in 2008. Kelly has indicated that he will stand in the upcoming election. Kelly's brother Declan -- one of the top dogs at Financial Dynamics parent company in the US -- was also a donor.

Technology gazillionaire Bill McCabe was also a supporter of Kelly's campaign with his LNC Property Managers handing over €2,500 -- which was later returned, according to the Sipo documents. Another McCabe firm, Oyster Technologies, also donated €2,500 to the candidate in 2008.

Another PR company, Drury Communications, saw its former chief executive Padraig McKeon donate €1,000 to Senator Alex White of the Labour Party, who is standing in Dublin South.

FG's Eugene O'Regan received a €1,000 donation from Sherry FitzGerald, which is run by former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald's son Mark.

Aviva chairman David Simpson, whose insurance company sponsors the former Lansdowne Road stadium, donated a modest €7,590 to former Labour Party leader and Finance Minister Ruairi Quinn in 2007.

Michael O'Connor, the former director of department store Arnotts, whose family sold their 24.7 per cent stake in the business for €40m at the top of the market, donated €2,500 to Quinn's cause. Marketing whizz Gary Brown, who helped launch the careers of Bell X1 and Damien Rice, is also listed as a Quinn donor.

Quinn is running the Labour Party's election campaign. It is understood that he has written to thousands of top businessmen and wealthy professionals seeking donations of €1,000 each.

The Labour Party has been traditionally well funded by the trade union movement, although a Labour spokesman has said that the amount from the unions accounts for just five per cent of its overall battle fund. This compares with a 30 per cent level in the UK.

In 2007 alone, Siptu was the biggest single donor to key Labour Party members, according to the Sipo filings. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore received €2,500, while Ruari Quinn, Joan Burton, Michael D Higgins, Brendan Howlin, Willie Penrose, Pat Rabbitte, Emmet Stagg and Jack Wall also each received €2,500 from the trades union -- a total of €22,500.

In 2009, Siptu coughed up a total of €5,000 for Prionsias de Rossa and Alan Kelly's European election campaigns. Teachers' union INTO donated €2,500 to Senator Joe O'Toole in 2008, with Unite providing rooms to Labour TD Brian O'Shea.

There is clear evidence that some of the biggest names in Irish business are supporting FG and the Labour Party. There are even signs of people who have been considered traditional FF supporters coming in to donate to FG.

One of the most high profile of these is Des Peelo. Formerly Charlie Haughey's accountant, Peelo's firm Peelo & Partners donated €1,000 to FG TD Alan Shatter's campaign in 2007.

FF's traditional financial powerbase of builders and property developers has evaporated with the collapse of the market. One of new FF leader Micheal Martin's donors in the 2007 campaign was building firm John J Fleming, which has since collapsed with debts of €1.8bn. Fleming filed for bankruptcy in the UK before Christmas.

Martin now faces an extraordinarily hard task to persuade a new breed of business donors to fund this campaign.

And the next one.

Sunday Indo Business