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Fundraiser for FG flies in face of new law on donations

FINE Gael is targeting businesspeople with a corporate fundraiser costing €850 a table -- and using taxpayer-funded envelopes to send out the invites.

Businesspeople are being invited to fork out €850 for a table of 10, or €100 a head to attend a reception and lunch with cabinet members.

They will dine with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Health Minister James Reilly, the Irish Independent has learned. The invitation flies in the face of the Government banning donations over €200, unless they follow extremely strict new guidelines.

Just last month, Taoiseach Enda Kenny boasted about the plans at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis.

"Our new laws on political funding will ban corporate donations over €200 to a political party unless they are registered and declared," Mr Kenny said during his keynote, televised Saturday night address.

The Department of the Environment says "all things being equal", the new rules are expected to be passed into law by the Dail summer recess.

But the fundraiser is being held before the new laws come into effect, and will raise questions about corporate donors getting close to ministers.

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.

The letters advertise a reception and lunch being held in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, hosted by Dr Reilly and local TD Alan Farrell.

The event takes place on Friday, April 27, and it is understood the hotel's Guttenburg Suite has been booked for an exclusive audience of 80 people.

Even though the invites have been sent out in publicly funded Dail envelopes, there is nothing to identify which Dail office provided the envelopes.

According to the Oireachtas, the envelopes are to "assist members in carrying out their functions as elected representatives".

However, the letters were used to raise money for Fine Gael and did not come from a TD, but from Bridie Hession, who chaired the organising committee for the event, and Bob Dowling, chairperson of Fine Gael in Dublin North.

Mr Varadkar, who has responsibility for transport and tourism, would be of interest to businesses in Dublin North since Dublin Airport is a huge employer in the constituency.

Metro North, which has since been mothballed, is also a big issue in the constituency.

Dr Reilly has previously been one of the top fundraisers in the Dail, raising €15,950 for 2008, when he declared a donation of €650 from top solicitors McCann Fitzgerald for a golf classic.

The letter also highlights the fact that there will be a pre-lunch reception, and advises how donors can hand over their cash.

The new rules being brought in by Environment Minister Phil Hogan will effectively ban corporate donations of over €200. Mr Hogan has said he would have preferred to ban corporate donations outright, but was legally unable to do so.

Speaking in the Seanad in February, Mr Hogan said: "Corporate donations will be severely curtailed".

"The corporate funding of politics comes at a price above and beyond the value of any donations that are given and accepted.

"It brings with it an unavoidable perception of a mutually beneficial relationship. As we have seen in Ireland in recent years, this can have an incrementally corrosive impact on public trust in politics."

The party's manifesto from last year's general election also promised to ban corporate donations entirely.

Irish Independent