Tuesday 28 January 2020

Full house for Fine Gael at €850-a-table corporate bash

Health Minister Dr James Reilly arriving at the Fine Gael Dublin North fundraiser in the
Grand Hotel, Malahide, yesterday
Health Minister Dr James Reilly arriving at the Fine Gael Dublin North fundraiser in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, yesterday

Michael Brennan and Paul Melia

FINE Gael maintained last night that it was operating within the law as it collected at least €6,800 from a corporate fundraiser attended by two cabinet ministers.

Health Minister James Reilly and Transport Minister Leo Varadkar were the keynote speakers at the lunchtime function in the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Dublin.

Dr Reilly passionately defended the fundraiser, but the normally chatty Mr Varadkar refused to make any comment as he left the hotel quickly after the event.

The Irish Independent had revealed how business people had been invited to fork out €850 for a table of 10 to attend a reception and lunch with cabinet members.

But one party figure revealed yesterday that this publicity had actually helped to get more donors to turn up -- with the final number in excess of its target of 80.

Dr Reilly denied that it was an error of judgment by Fine Gael to be holding such an €850-per table fundraiser when its forthcoming legislation would all but ban corporate donations above €200.

"It's legal today and it'll be legal into the future. Most of the people here are not buying tables at €850, they are buying seats at €85 and coming together to the table to listen to the speakers, to what Minister Varadkar has to say about transport and to what I'll have to say about health and the economy," he said.

It is understood that the party donors were given lunch in the hotel's Coast restaurant, where the menu included starters such as golden fried brie and baby gem salad with smoked chicken. The main courses included 12-ounce ribeye steak, stuffed Tuscan chicken breast and pan-fried haddock.

Fine Gael did not reveal any details of the companies who had bought tables for the event and refused to allow media access to the private fundraiser. Fine Gael's letters were sent out in official Oireachtas envelopes -- the cost of which is funded by the taxpayer -- by the Dublin North branch of the party.

Dr Reilly denied it was a matter of "cash for access" to cabinet ministers, saying that he never refused to see anyone on the basis of their ability to pay.

"I'm a public rep and I will see those who wish to see me in my clinic as time allows. This isn't about them lobbying us, it's about us lobbying them to get active in relation to the stability treaty," he said.

The subjects for discussion at the fundraiser in the Grand Hotel's Guttenberg Suite were the fiscal treaty referendum, the health service, the transport sector, and a local good news story -- the re-opening of the Fry Model Railway in Malahide. The fundraiser was also attended by Fine Gael Dublin North TD Alan Farrell and new Fine Gael recruit and former Olympic runner, Senator Eamonn Coghlan.

Paid

The fundraiser was attended by more than 80 people who paid a minimum of €85 each, meaning the party collected a minimum of €6,800. But local Fine Gael councillor Anthony Lavin said the net gain to the party would be around €50 per person.

"Don't forget, the hotel is going to charge for a meal, and drink is going to cost a few bob as well," he said.

He revealed that previous publicity about the event in the Irish Independent had actually helped the party to get above the 80 guests it had been hoping for.

And he said that around 70-80pc of those attending were Fine Gael supporters while the rest were corporate donors.

Yesterday, Environment Minister Phil Hogan confirmed that he was changing the political funding laws this summer to effectively ban corporate donations.

But he defended the Fine Gael fundraiser in Malahide.

"I'm sure the people in north Dublin are operating within the law. It's a matter for every constituency to decide. They know what their legal obligations are," he said.

Irish Independent

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