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Green Party softens its opposition to Fianna Fail's fundraising tent at races

THE Green Party's stance on the Fianna Fail fundraising tent at the Galway Races softened substantially yesterday.

The party now says it "welcomes" a possible review of their government partner's controversial presence at the Ballybrit racecourse. Before going into Government, the Greens were implacably opposed to the corporate tent and promised to ban corporate donations outright.

Fianna Fail has not actually said it has any plans to review its Galway Races fundraiser. The party expects to raise about €160,000 from the hospitality tent over this week. Guests will pay up to €400 per head to dine with ministers and TDs.

Tourism Minister Seamus Brennan said at the weekend that the tent should be reviewed because it is a lightning rod for controversy. Greens Party councillor Niall O Brolchain said he agreed with the minister and the tent was an annual reminder that the regulation of political donations was woefully insufficient.

"The Green Party recognises the role of lobbying in the democratic process - both on behalf of corporate and other interest groups. But it should be transparent and aboveboard. The infamous tent at Ballybrit fulfils neither criteria," he said. "It is our hope that the commitment in the Programme for Government to establish an independent electoral commission will provide the means to more properly define what appropriate political fundraising is and how it can be undertaken."

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will be present for two days, hosting the usual array of party activists, property developers, builders and businessmen attending the racing festival.

The party insists there is nothing in any way exclusive about the tent and the vast majority of those who pay in are party supporters.

During the week, 1,700 people will visit the tent, including 500 party grassroots members who will attend on Friday at a cut price €85 each.

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