Sunday 18 March 2018

Businessman insists Gallagher collected FF fundraiser cheque

Sean Gallagher with his wife Trish arrive at RTE for the Frontline Debate. Photo: Kyran O'Bryan
Glenna Lynch on last night's Frontline debate reporters

BUSINESSMAN Hugh Morgan has insisted that Independent presidential candidate Sean Gallagher personally collected a cheque for €5,000 from him ahead of a Fianna Fail fundraiser back in 2008.

Earlier today Mr Gallagher denied collecting the money and described a statement that he did so from opponent Sinn Fein candidate Martin McGuinness as an attempt at “political assasination.”

This afternoon Mr Morgan, who admits being convicted for tax evasion in relation to fuel smuggling in Northern Ireland 14 years ago, released a statement describing the timeline and meeting with Mr Gallagher when he handed him the cheque.

“On June 27, Sean Gallagher visited my business premises at Killean, County Armagh.

“I wrote a cheque for €5,000.00 and gave it to him personally.

“I then attended the fundraiser (at the Crown Plaza Hotel, Dundalk) which was also attended by other businessmen from South Armagh, North Louth and across the Northeast.

“Sean Gallagher greeted the guests on arrival and directed us to the room at the top of the hotel where the fundraiser was held,” he said.

But this conflicts with Mr Gallagher’s version of events when he said clarification from Fianna Fail of its receipt of the cheque before the fundraising event in question proved he could not have collected it.

"I am pleased that Fianna Fáil have clarified on the Pat Kenny Show this morning that they received a cheque of €5,000 date the 26th of June 2008 from Mr Morgan and that this donation was acknowledged and receipted and lodged to their bank account on the 28th of June in advance of the event which was held on the 1st of July,” he said earlier today.

Mr Morgan, who said he later repaid the Exchequer and a fine and was never investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau or any other agency in relation to the fuel smuggling, added that the meeting with Mr Gallagher had been preceded by a number of phone calls.

The issue of the cheque also dominated the RTE Frontline debate amidst Mr Gallagher’s confusion over whether he had collected it or not.

"Martin McGuinness said that I visited Hugh Morgan after the event to deliver a photograph and collect the cheque,” he said today.

“This is untrue.”

Earlier today, Mr Gallagher, who has a long history with Fianna Fail, abandoned his plans to run a clean campaign when he accused Sinn Fein and Mr McGuinness of a ‘hatchet job’ and ‘dirty tricks’.

Furthermore, he rounded on a woman who forensically questioned his business dealings questioning her political affiliations and motivations.

Mr Gallagher, from Co Cavan, claimed he had been singled out after calling for anyone with information on the killing of Garda Detective Jerry McCabe to come forward.

He also claimed he had been made aware that he would come under amazing attack from Sinn Fein in the border areas.

Mr Gallagher trenchantly defended his business record on Pat Kenny’s radio show this morning and asked if questions about his Smarthomes dealings had been deliberately set up.

Clearly rattled, he rounded on the woman who asked detailed questions about his business loan, state grants and the amount of money he had taken from the company.

“I’m not casting aspersions on her. Is she in somebody else’s campaign team trying to take down my campaign? I have never said one thing negative about anybody else’s campaign. It’s sad,” he said.

But he continued to attack her motivations.

The woman, identified as Glenna Lynch, then came on air and said that she was so shocked at Mr Gallagher’s claims that she had been forced to stop her car while driving to see a client.

“I am married with three children. I am not involved in any political party. It’s extraordinary that Sean believes normal people, voters, don’t have the right to ask a question,” she said.

She revealed that she had emailed the Frontline in advance of last night’s show and the Frontline team has asked her if she would ask a question.

“I could have asked Sean questions last night for two hours,” she said.

She again questioned Mr Gallagher’s unwillingness to repay a €20,000 loan from Louth County Council and said it was a dishonourable thing to do.

“You probably prevented another man or woman in Co Louth from receiving a similar handout. You received extraordinary and unprecedented state support....and you and your partner raided the coffers,” she claimed.

Sean Gallagher responded saying that it was regrettable that these questions had arisen and that he had repaid the amount after a settlement was reached between both parties satisfactorily.

He denied that he had weakened his company by taking out over €800,000 with a partner.

“Every single penny that was owed was paid. Our company survived because it was prudently managed. All the money that was there was put back in to develop new technology,” he said.

“I stand over everything I have done as being impeccable with honestly and integrity. I refute any allegations....I have called on my campaign team to stay focused on a positive message,” he said.

“My view will not be diverted by tactics such as political assassination by Martin McGuinness or anyone else in Sinn Fein.”

It is obvious to me that Mr Morgan (Hugh Morgan, the businessman) loaded the gun and Mr McGuinness pulled the trigger" on this issue, Mr Gallagher said on the Pat Kenny Show.

Mr Gallagher said he was aware of this potential problem from last week when a journalist approached him but when he found out that the businessman was a criminal, the newspaper decided not to run the story.

"I was a member of Fianna Fail and I am not ashamed of that. That was a legal fund-raising event I was at, not like some of the Sinn Fein events," he stressed.

He accepted that his memory of what happened was hazy but added that he had no intention of allowing Martin McGuinness or Sinn Fein to take him out

He said Mr McGuinness had condemned him on this issue of whether he had been given a cheque from this businessman but failed to condemn a number of atrocities carried out by the IRA including the murder of Det Garda Jerry McCabe.

The Sinn Fein candidate also claimed Mr Gallagher personally collected the payment for a meet and greet with then Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Mr McGuinness said claims that he was running an orchestrated campaign against Mr Gallagher were not true.

He said the donor had been told that the long-running Galway tent fundraiser was a thing of the past and the meet-and-greet in a hotel would be a new method.

The Sinn Fein candidate said he was relaying a legitimate, bona fide conversation that the public could decide on.

Mr McGuinness said he had learned overnight that the man, who he declined to name, gave the poll-topper the €5,000 cheque at his home four days before the Fianna Fail fundraiser in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dundalk.

He said Mr Gallagher also delivered a photograph to the man after the event.

"What is very, very clear is that Sean is part of the Galway tent culture," he said.

"The man I spoke to also told me during the course of the conversation that one explanation that was given for the meeting of 30-odd people, a Fianna Fail fundraiser, a meeting with the Taoiseach, which I consider to be totally inappropriate given these are builders and developers at a time whenever the country was going through a major crisis.

"This man made it clear he was told that Fianna Fail had decided that the Galway tent operation had to fold up and this was going to be the alternative for fundraising.”

The Frontline had a 48pc audience share last night with 780,000 viewers.

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