Thursday 18 July 2019

Sinn Féin defends right to hold $500-a-plate US dinners after criticising Fine Gael fundraiser

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty (Niall Carson/PA)
Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty (Niall Carson/PA)

Hugh O'Connell

Sinn Féin has defended its right to hold $500-a-plate fundraisers in the United States while accusing Fine Gael of "seeking payment for access to ministers".

The party has heavily criticised a Fine Gael fundraiser held last week where members of the legal profession were charged between €400 and €600 to attend a fundraiser at which Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan spoke.

Junior minister Michael D’Arcy and a number of Fine Gael councillors and election candidates who are barristers also attended the event.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald told the Irish Mail on Sunday that the event was "outrageous".

But Sinn Féin’s US fundraising arm, Friends of Sinn Féin, holds annual dinners in New York where it has previously charged attendees as much as $500-a-plate. The party’s deputy leader in the Dáil, Pearse Doherty, claimed today it was not the same as Fine Gael fundraising.

"They pay to support the Sinn Féin peace process, they pay to support our effort in the peace process, they pay to support our efforts in the United States where the majority of money that’s raised is spent there, it’s not spent here in the 26 counties," he told journalists at Leinster House.

"People value the Irish diaspora, people value our contribution to the peace process, value the contributuon we are making and that is why they support the efforts of Friends of Sinn Féin in America, support members of Sinn Féin travelling to the Irish diaspora to engage with them without any charge, to go over there and discuss the issues in relation to the Irish peace proCess but also issues related to them such as the undocumented Irish."

Asked what the difference was with the Fine Gael event last week, Doherty said: "The difference is that this is government minister with a brief in relation to justice which has targeted people directly involved in this area and said: ‘You can have access to the minister for €600’.

"I believe that’s wrong, it’s up to the public to decide whether that’s right or wrong, but I believe that that’s wrong. It’s payment for access to ministers. It shouldn’t happen in any government department."

A spokeswoman for Mr Flanagan did not respond to a request for comment.

Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd said that all Fine Gael party fundraising activities are conducted in full compliance with the law and SIPO guidelines.

"Fine Gael in Government brought in a law prohibiting cash donations of more than €100 to politicians," he said.

"The Electoral Amendment Political Funding Act 2012 was the single most significant step in reforming political donations and ensuring transparency and has broken the old links between big money and politics."

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