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Mary Lou McDonald's business class flights cost fundraisers €10k

She is the self-styled queen of anti-austerity - but Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald had no problem letting fundraisers foot the €10,000-plus bill for her business class flights to Australia.

The party expects to raise $15,000 (€10,600) from eight fundraising dinners Down Under, where Ms McDonald addressed republican supporters in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.

Ms McDonald claimed the money would cover her travel and accommodation costs, plus those of Mid-Ulster MP Francie Molloy, who accompanied her on the trip.

"The fundraising is to try take the sting out of the costs," McDonald told the Sunday Independent.

Ms McDonald and Mr Molloy travelled to Australia a fortnight ago to take part in a "national unification" tour, attending specially organised events in Australia's four major cities.

The use of business class travel is in stark contrast to the party's policy of TDs only accepting the average industrial wage from their Dail salaries. According to the party, the balance of their Dail deputies' €95,000 annual wage is redirected to fund "party activities".

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Minister for Health Leo Varadkar TD, Mary Lou McDonald TD and Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin TD, during their visit to the MacGill Summer School.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar TD, Mary Lou McDonald TD and Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin TD, during their visit to the MacGill Summer School.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar TD, Mary Lou McDonald TD and Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin TD, during their visit to the MacGill Summer School.

Ms McDonald used the Australian tour to lay out the party's electoral strategy for the next general election, due to take place in 2016.

During the tour, Ms McDonald boldly claimed that the party will not settle for anything less than a 32-county Irish Republic.

"Our mission is the Republic and we want all of it - we won't settle for anything less," she told Irish-Australians in Perth.

Ms McDonald said the fundraising trip was part of Sinn Fein's campaign to engage with the Irish diaspora and to "secure a Border poll and the ongoing work towards Irish unity".

In her 30-minute speech, Ms McDonald "appealed" to her audience to "look carefully and read the signals" regarding Sinn Fein's electoral ambitions.

At the Perth fundraiser, 150 Sinn Fein supporters paid €30 to watch a 'Mise Eire' concert. Local Irish pubs, Irish construction companies and unions also sponsored tables for $150 (€106).

According to Emma Clancy of Cairde Sinn Fein Australia, more than 200 Sinn Fein supporters attended the fundraising efforts in Melbourne at $20 (€14.20) a head. A further 150 people attending separate events in Sydney and Brisbane at $10 (€7.10) and $20 at the door respectively.

James Donnelly of Sinn Fein's 'Perth Cairde' said the party aims to attract votes from the families of emigrants they help abroad.

Sinn Fein's organisation in Australia operates welfare-type organisations in the major cities that assist emigrants with visa issues, access to education, Irish language lessons. It also sponsors a number of GAA clubs Down Under: one club has even taken the party's name,

The party has a long record of channelling large sums of money back to Ireland from overseas to help fund its operations.

As revealed by this newspaper earlier this year, the party ramped up its fundraising drive in the US as it prepared for May's local and European elections.

Publicly filed documents with the US Justice Department revealed the massive war chest built up by Sinn Fein across the Atlantic. An investigation by the Sunday Independent showed Sinn Fein raked in a staggering $US392,000 (€302,000) in the six months up until May 2013.

And almost $US50,000 (€38,000) was used to pay printing expenses in the North and to purchase a vehicle. The party is receiving individual sums of up to $US20,000 (€16,000) and has even been left portions of dead peoples' estates. The extraordinary cash pile built by Sinn Fein in the US lies in five bank accounts based in New York. The accounts are operated by the Friends of Sinn Fein organisation, known internally as the party's fundraising wing.

Former Environment Minister Phil Hogan last year decided that local branches of political parties did not need to provide accounts because the burden of accountability for volunteer-led branches would be too onerous. However, the Standards in Public Office Commission rejected this view. In their annual report published last month, the ethics watchdog said an annual statement of accounts from local branches was "desirable" and should include monies raised abroad by Sinn Fein in Australia and Fine Gael in London.

Sunday Independent