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Debts of €3.6m add to Fianna Fail's woes

FIANNA Fail is €3.6m in debt in a further sign of the party's ailing fortunes.

The figure was disclosed by Noel Dempsey, the Transport Minister, at a meeting of the national executive last week, bringing further bad news to a party flagging in the polls and smarting from a drubbing in the local elections last year.

Mr Dempsey, who is honorary treasurer of Fianna Fail, urged delegates to step up efforts to sell €50 tickets as part of a national "super draw" to help clear the debt, according to sources.

The scale of the party's debt was among the first items on the agenda at a meeting attended by 90 elected members of the national executive on Thursday. The party's outlay in recent years has been considerable.

Fianna Fail spent €1.75m on the 2007 General Election and an estimated €500,000 on the 'Yes to Lisbon' campaign last year.

In contrast, Fine Gael lodged €1.2m to its bank account from its annual national draw last year. The Fine Gael ticket sales -- €80 each -- were heralded as "fantastic" by Fine Gael party chairman Tom Hayes, who said the sales defied the serious economic downturn.

Fianna Fail Senator Mary White said yesterday that the deficit is not an issue, given the party's ongoing fundraising events. "It's nothing to be concerned about and look at the elections that we have had. The general in 2007, the two Lisbons and the locals and Europeans last year so it's no surprise there is a debt. But seriously it's not a concern."

Taoiseach Brian Cowen also acknowledged Fianna Fail's problems to the national executive in a speech that called for "unity of purpose" and the need for reform.

The meeting ended in disunity, however, following a clash between between Mr Dempsey and a prominent Fianna Fail activist, Jerry Beades.

The row erupted a week after Mr Beades called for Noel Dempsey and five other cabinet ministers to be sacked.

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At last Thursday's national executive meeting, Mr Beades complained that government ministers should be more accessible to members of the national executive, as had been the case when they were frontbench spokespersons in opposition.

Mr Beades mentioned Mr Dempsey, to which the Minister allegedly replied: "You won't bully me here." According to Mr Beade's account, the Minister urged the businessman to tell the whole story and made reference to a legal action he was involved in during the 1990s.

Mr Beades took this as a reference to a successful High Court case he took against Dublin City Council, in which he claimed he was victimised. Mr Beades wrote to several public representatives at the time seeking an official inquiry, including Mr Dempsey.

Mr Beades said this weekend that Mr Dempsey had not responded to his concerns at the time of case.

The fallout from the row is set to continue this week. Mr Beades said he will be asking Fianna Fail's rules and procedures committee to consider disciplining the Minister for turning on him.

"His attack was unjust and meant to inflict personal damage to a voluntary member of Fianna Fail," said Mr Beades this weekend. "This is the type of behaviour ordinary members of the party face when they speak up inside the executive, and you speak outside the executive, you're disloyal. Yet Minister Dempsey can carry on regardless."