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From working class to first class -- Sinn Fein gets a taste for luxury

GERRY Adams and his senior Sinn Fein colleagues have been spending a small fortune on fine dining and expensive hotels in America, according to documents filed with the US Department of Justice.

The papers lodged by Sinn Fein's fundraising arm in the US show that Mr Adams and a select bunch of party members have been bucking the recession and national austerity on their frequent cross-Atlantic trips.

Mr Adams and others are regulars at the Affinia and Sheraton hotels in Manhattan. Sinn Fein's finance director, Des Mackin, is recorded as staying at the chic Surrey hotel on East 76th Street, which boasts that it is New York's "only Relais and Chateau hotel" with "some of the most luxurious suites in Manhattan". Prices for rooms at the Surrey are from $686 to $1,424 (€526 to €1,090).

The returns to the US Department of Justice show that Sinn Fein raised $2.7m (€2.07m) between 2007 and 2010, but the party seems to have spent substantially on first-class travel and accommodation and fine dining.

Mr Adams' favourite restaurant still appears to be Bobby Van's on 50th Street in Manhattan, where he and party colleagues can enjoy the $48.50 (€37) steaks.

During a visit to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York, the Sinn Fein delegation enjoyed contemporary American cuisine at the Harbour Lights restaurant, which describes itself as one of the "top 10 romantic restaurants in New York" and "as elegant as South Street Seaport gets".

Sinn Fein's claims to be a party of the working class, as opposed to the corporate class, are difficult to reconcile with the list of donors in the Department of Justice documents. In 2010, they list no less than 35 corporate donors alongside 34 individuals.

In 2009, some 49 companies, including the major construction corporation Structure Tone, which has a turnover of $2.38bn (€1.82bn), are recorded as having made donations.

The Sinn Fein corporate networking in America was highlighted in 2007 when Mr Adams was pictured at Bobby Van's alongside senior executives from Lehman Brothers during a St Patrick's Day trip. This was before the company's disastrous collapse in 2008, which heralded the global collapse of the financial-services industry.

Sinn Fein is the only Northern Irish political party raising such funds abroad. It uses a loophole in UK law, which only allows political parties in Northern Ireland to raise funds. As the party operates on both sides of the Border, its corporate and private donations from its fundraising arms in the United States, Canada, Australia and Britain do not have to be recorded in the Republic. None of the other political parties in the UK raises funds in the US or in any foreign countries.

And while Taoiseach Enda Kenny flew Ryanair to the recent Brussels summit from the EU parliamentary party meeting in the south of France, Gerry Adams and his associates still fly club-class across the Atlantic.

Fine dining and expensive hotel accommodation continued for Sinn Fein visits last year to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1981 Maze hunger strike.

Sinn Fein Sligo-North Leitrim TD, Michael Colreavy, is recorded as staying at the Affinia in Manhattan and attending a dinner at the Astoria Manor in Queens, which claims to offer "luxurious elegance at affordable prices".

Two of the party's Stormont members, Gerry Kelly and Pat Sheehan, commemorated the hunger strike in which 10 men died by attending a dinner at the ultra-swish Manhattan Club, just off Central Park. They also stayed at the Affinia, where a suite costs $329 (€252).

Prices in the Sheraton Midtown in Manhattan, which is Mr Adams' preferred hotel, are from $208 to $633 (€159 to €485). Mr Adams also hosted, as he does each year, the annual $500-a-head (€383) Friends of Sinn Fein dinner at the Sheraton, which has been attended by up to 500 people. Many of the tables are paid for by corporate donors, with the construction industry heavily represented.

Mr Adams met Thomas DiNapoli and John C Liu, the financial comptrollers of both New York City and State, at the Sheraton last September. On the same trip, Sinn Fein hosted a $200-a-head (€153) lunch at Bobby Van's on 50th Street.

Last year, Mr Adams was reported as hosting a lunch at a very expensive seafront club in the millionaires' playground of The Hamptons in New York State, followed the next evening by an invitation-only dinner in a nearby private mansion.

Sunday Independent