FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin has confirmed that he hosted a €2,000-per-plate fundraising dinner for the party at the St Stephen's Club in the run-up to the 2007 General Election. The exclusive event was attended by a number of the country's leading developers and businessmen and raised in the region of €50,000, the Sunday Independent understands.
Asked for comment on his attendance at the dinner, Mr Martin said: "Party headquarters would have been organising that and we (ministers) were asked to do various speaking engagements. That's all I know about that.
"The bottom line is that, like any other political party, we had fundraisers organised by party headquarters. I don't get involved in the details of those fundraisers, of who goes there or anything like that."
Asked if he had felt comfortable participating in a private fundraiser at a private club, given Fianna Fail's efforts now to present him as a 'fresh face' and a break from the party's colourful past, Mr Martin said: "Well, I didn't know the amounts (of the donations) or anything else. As far as I'm concerned, I speak to people at all levels of society. I've no difficulty with that.
"I've had regular weekly clinics, for example, where people come in on a Saturday morning to me. For me as a democrat, I will meet with people in any forum that they are presented to me in. The discussion at most of the gatherings that I was at were around economics, the direction of economic policy and all of that kind of thing."
The Fianna Fail leader readily conceded, however, that the practice of political fundraising by parties would have to be more transparent from now on.
On this, he said: "We (Fianna Fail) will be banning corporate donations as and from now onwards. I believe we have to reform politics.
"Politics was funded largely by private (donors); not just Fianna Fail, but Fine Gael and everybody else. Fine Gael are doing all these dinners as well and I think from now on there has to be more transparency. When the election is over, we'll be leading Fianna Fail in a different direction on fundraising generally."
Asked how the Fianna Fail organisation intended to pay down its estimated €3m debt in the absence of sizeable corporate donations, Mr Martin said: "I think we have to go back to the membership. Because when you stand back and look at it, 80 per cent of the fundraising comes from non-corporate sources, in other words, the national collection and party draws.
"We don't have a membership fee or anything like that. We're going to get a sustainable revenue operation in place that would see smaller amounts from a larger number of people over a longer period of time."
Asked for comment on Fine Gael director of elections Phil Hogan's recent statement that the bulk of his party's €2.25m electoral war chest had been raised from "ordinary people" and the proceeds of raffles and draws, he said: "Well, I think they (Fine Gael) did very good golf classics and had very significant contributors to those golf classics.
"I think they have, over the last three years in particular, had very substantial fundraisers of the kind you mention in relation to us (Fianna Fail). I don't think it's just draws and raffles.
"They've raised big money as well. That's why they opposed up to quite recently the banning of corporate donations."
Asked if any of Fianna Fail's former corporate donors had switched their support to Fine Gael, he said: "I'd say so. I don't know, but I presume they did."