Sinn Fein's 'dirty tricks' campaign to thwart rival Gallagher was a failure
Michael D gains -- not McGuinness -- as SF's border vote plummets
INDEPENDENT candidate Sean Gallagher was the target of a 'dirty tricks' campaign by Sinn Fein because he stood in the way of the party's hoped-for breakthrough in the presidential election.
Despite the implosion of the Fine Gael vote and the absence of a Fianna Fail candidate, Sinn Fein -- which had a household name in candidate Martin McGuinness -- failed abysmally to make headway in the first election in which the party contested every constituency.
Sinn Fein decided on a strategy to undermine Mr Gallagher in the final two weeks of the campaign, culminating in a claim that he was involved in a fundraising event for Fianna Fail.
However, it has since emerged that the businessman -- who had claimed that Mr Gallagher had asked him to attend the fundraiser initially -- said it might have been the former Fianna Fail TD Seamus Kirk who invited him to the event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dundalk in June 2008.
Yesterday, Mr Gallagher told the Sunday Independent he had now established that he had not delivered a photograph of the businessman Hugh Morgan with the then-Taoiseach Brian Cowen to Mr Morgan's business premises.
"I left it off at the Carrickdale Hotel for him to collect.
"It's only now I realise that," Mr Gallagher said. The hotel is adjacent to Mr Morgan's business headquarters.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has claimed that his party's third-place finish in the election represented a "breakthrough" and a "milestone".
However, a detailed analysis shows that Mr McGuinness's impact was to increase the Sinn Fein popular vote by just 22,369 votes -- a desperately poor return for a party which had invested so heavily in the election.
At the general election in February, Sinn Fein secured a total national vote of 220,661. The first-preference vote of Mr McGuinness in the presidential election was 243,030.
ANALYSIS and full poll details Pages 2,4 25-33, 40
Yesterday, the former Fianna Fail TD Seamus Kirk, who is also a former ceann comhairle in the Dail, told this newspaper he did not "recollect" picking up a cheque from Mr Morgan for Fianna Fail.
He said: "I would have had contact with Hugh Morgan from time to time -- and not on behalf of Fianna Fail. I was involved in the development council for the GAA.
"There were various fundraising events over the years. I don't recollect collecting a cheque from Hugh Morgan. I would have been in contact there -- but for the GAA, not for Fianna Fail."
However, a journalist who first investigated the claims reported last Wednesday that under sustained questioning Mr Morgan was unclear two weeks ago about his specific claim in relation to the involvement of Mr Gallagher in the fundraising event.
Michael O'Farrell, the investigations editor of the Irish Mail On Sunday, whose newspaper made a decision not to publish the claims last weekend, explained how Mr Morgan was uncertain.
"For example, he said that it may actually have been Fianna Fail TD Seamus Kirk who had called him with the invitation to attend the Dundalk fundraiser... and he couldn't remember details of the day Mr Gallagher collected the cheque or dropped off the photograph."
On the RTE Frontline debate on Monday last, however, Mr McGuinness dramatically alleged that a businessman had told him that Mr Gallagher had gone to his premises after a Fianna Fail fundraiser to collect a €5,000 cheque.
The claim proved to be hugely damaging to the then- clear frontrunner, Mr Gallagher, in that it sought to present him as a 'bagman' for Fianna Fail, rather than the grassroots member of the party that he made himself out to be.
Mr Gallagher found himself struggling when Pat Kenny subsequently read out a 'tweet' that purported to come from Sinn Fein saying the businessman -- later identified as Mr Morgan -- would be giving a press conference.
It subsequently transpired, however, that the 'tweet' came from a fake account and thus was a fantasy. But it left Mr Gallagher reeling. Under pressure from Mr McGuinness, he conceded that he may have collected an envelope.
His use of the words "envelope" and "recollection" proved disastrous for him as they conjured up an image of the brown-envelope culture that was so prevalent in Fianna Fail.
The day after the Frontline debate, however, it emerged that Mr McGuinness's claim was incorrect in so far as the cheque had been cashed before the event.
Fianna Fail has clarified that it received a cheque of €5,000, dated June 26, 2008, from Mr Morgan and that this donation was acknowledged, receipted and lodged to its bank account on June 28 in advance of the event, which was held on July 1, 2008.
Sinn Fein then claimed that Mr Gallagher had twice gone to Mr Morgan, before and after the fundraising event.
But Mr Gallagher denied that he ever called to Mr Morgan, claiming he was forced to concede the point on Frontline because he was thrown by the allegation.
Mr Morgan subsequently issued a statement to claim that Mr Gallagher had called to him before and after the fundraising event. In media interviews, Mr Gallagher sought to rescue the situation.
He said: "Martin McGuinness said that I visited Hugh Morgan after the event to deliver a photograph and collect the cheque. This is untrue.
" I could not have collected any cheque from Mr Morgan after the event when I delivered the photograph -- which he was very insistent that he wanted -- to him.
"When evidence has emerged that refutes Mr McGuinness's claims he has changed his story.
"This is despite his claims that he spoke to Mr Morgan only two hours before the debate where Mr McGuinness levelled these untrue accusations at me. Martin McGuinness is just not credible."
Pointedly, Mr Gallagher added of the Fianna Fail event at issue: "This was a legitimate and legal fundraiser. No banks were robbed and no members of the gardai were killed during it."
The net result electorally was the same, however -- the damage had already been done and it was all bad for Mr Gallagher.