Wednesday 19 June 2019

Fine Gael got money from same donor as Haughey


FINE Gael received a significant sum of money at a controversial fundraising dinner in New York from a company whose principal also gave IR£75,000 to the late Charles Haughey, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The company, Hardwicke Ltd, which is controlled by the businessman Mark Kavanagh, is registered to have paid $7,500 for a table at the dinner, which featured so prominently in the Moriarty tribunal's report.

It can also be revealed that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have used the same businessman, the late David Austin, to raise funds from the same business interests.

Mr Austin was the man whose idea it was to hold the fundraising dinner in New York in 1995. A controversial $50,000 donation to Fine Gael from Esat/Telenor had its origins at that dinner.

Today's revelation sheds new light on the mystery which still surrounds the fundraising activities of Fine Gael when it last came to power in the mid-1990s.

The disclosure will refocus the spotlight on the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who is anxious to distance Fine Gael from the activities of his former associate Mr Lowry and to present Fine Gael as the party that is intent on cleaning up politics.

Filings by Fine Gael's former US fundraising unit -- Friends of Fine Gael -- at the US Department of Justice show that the party raised a declared $140,000 at a New York dinner.

Some of the major players in global high finance -- as well as several Irish interests, including Bank of Ireland -- were among those who attended the prestigious 21 Club in Manhattan on November 9, 1995.

This was a little over two weeks after the announcement that Esat had been the successful consortium in the GSM licence competition.

Those listed to have attended the exclusive affair included: Bank of Ireland ($7,500), Goldman Sachs ($10,000); Morgan Stanley ($10,000); Mutual of America ($20,000); businessman Pat Dineen's Sedgwick Group ($7,500) and Sedgwick Dineen ($7,500); hotelier John Fitzpatrick's Fitzpatrick Hotels ($2,500); Orion & Global ($15,000) and multinational pharmaceutical giant Schering Plough ($7,500).

The Moriarty tribunal discovered that a hugely controversial Esat/Telenor donation of $50,000 had its origins at this event, which was initiated by Mr Austin.

Mr Justice Moriarty concluded that IR£147,000, intended for Mr Lowry from Denis O'Brien, whose company Esat won the second mobile phone licence competition in controversial circumstances, had rested in Mr Austin's offshore account.

Although never a trustee or other officer of Fine Gael, Mr Austin had for some years been involved in a relatively loose and informal way with fundraising activities for it.

The Moriarty Report recounts that Mr Austin had been instrumental in the donation by Dr Michael Smurfit of IR£60,000 to Fianna Fail for the election of 1989.

Mr Justice Moriarty noted that Mark Kavanagh had personally delivered IR£75,000 (three cheques for IR£25,000) to the late Charles Haughey on behalf of one of his companies, Custom House Docks Development Company Ltd.

None of these bank drafts were remitted by Mr Haughey to Fianna Fail as Custom House Docks contributions, although a separate bank draft for IR£25,000, which was intended as a contribution to funds to assist the late Brian Lenihan with medical expenses, was remitted to Fianna Fail but recorded as an anonymous donation.

The tribunal chairman noted that the Smurfit donation to Fianna Fail and the Esat/Telenor donation to Fine Gael shared a characteristic, in that the late David Austin was instrumental in both.

Indeed, it was Mr Austin who first proposed the New York fundraising dinner to Fine Gael's then chairman of trustees, Michael Lowry, in a letter headed "Most private and confidential" in July 1995.

Mr Austin suggested that the event be held at an appropriate New York hotel or club, with the then Taoiseach, Mr Bruton, as guest of honour.

He proposed that a maximum of 30 US business executives be invited at a cost of $7,500 per head and that a small committee be formed to make arrangements.

Those to attend the dinner from Fine Gael, he proposed, should include the Taoiseach, Mr Lowry himself, Enda Kenny, Sean Barrett, Ivan Yates and Peter Sutherland, who was also envisaged as heading the committee.

Mr Kenny has said that in the end he did not attend.

Sunday Independent

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