An investigation by this paper has established that the party has been able to bring in up to €150,000 a time by hosting businessmen to lavish golf days at luxurious British and Irish courses.
Fine Gael this weekend refused to disclose how much it has received from such gifts, or to identify the companies that have helped it build up a €3m election war chest.
And thanks to our antiquated funding laws, the corporate donations do not have to be declared publicly as long as each payment is less than €5,000.
Personal donors can each give up to €630 each without ever having to be identified or their donation being made public.
However, the MoS has discovered that the donors have in the past included controversial tycoon Johnny Ronan’s Treasury Holdings, which is now in Nama, and construction industry giant CRH, which was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the housing boom.
Ironically, Fine Gael’s finance spokesman Michael Noonan banned such corporate donations when he was party leader in 2001, telling his members that such ‘gifts’ always came with an expectation of something in return.
However his party has since reversed that position and this weekend defended both the practice of taking cash from businesses – and refusing to say who is helping Enda Kenny and his party in their attempts to take power.
The golf classics – which raise just as much as the controversial Fianna Fáil Galway Races tent – are the brainchild of Fine Gael’s fundraising supremo, Anne Strain who has made millions for the party.
A former charity fundraiser, Miss Strain was headhunted by Mr Kenny eight years ago when he threw out Mr Noonan’s ban on corporate funding.
Teams of four pay up to €2,000 each – or €500 per man – to play while companies sponsor individual holes for sums of €5,000.
Each golf event can raise up to €60,000 in donations which under current political donation laws do not have to be declared at all.
Other events such as sponsored dinners and lunches also raise up to €20,000 an outing in under-the-limit donations from corporate and other sponsors. In addition, a members’ draw raises more than €1m annually for Fine Gael.
‘Fine Gael say they want change and that the Irish people want change, but all they are offering is to replace one party backed by a tight cabal of wealthy corporate donors with another one,’ said Green Party candidate Oisín Ó hAlmhain, who challenged Fine Gael to publish its list of corporate donors.
The practice of accepting secret donations has also been criticised by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO).
Aside from Fine Gael’s Eastern Regional Golf Classic at the K Club and its Southern Classic in Adare, the party also hosts a London tournament at Moor Park Golf Club.
Yet Fine Gael keeps the identity of these donors secret as it is entitled to do since donation laws allow individuals to secretly contribute up to €634 and companies to secretly give up to €5,078.
The last tranche of SIPO declaration statements by political parties – for 2009 – confirm this, with both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael declaring no donations whatsoever despite the fact that 2009 was a local and by-election election year.
Issuing its most recent report, SIPO said that laws which were meant to increase transparency in politics were not working and that a new approach was needed.
‘The provisions aimed at ensuring transparency and openness in relation to disclosure of donations remain ineffective. It should be possible for each citizen to have a clear picture of election spending by each candidate and party and also a clear indication of the sources for such funding,’ the report reads.
‘If the intention of the legislation is to provide for transparency and openness in relation to party funding and expenditure, then it is not achieving this aim.
How golf made FG a secret fortune
Enda Kenny says he will clean up our politics: so why won’t he come clean over all the donations his party has taken from construction firms, racing yards and developers?
On February 10, 2001 then-Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan made a bold and brave political move – one his own party has refused to accept ever since.
In his first action as Fine Gael’s new leader he instructed all party employees and trustees to accept no more corporate donations.
‘All over the world, it is recognised that financial support from business to politicians is perceived by the public to have one purpose – the securing of commercial advantage,’ he said.
‘Claims that such donations are made from disinterested motives are simply not believed… As the lurid tribunal scandals play out before our eyes, one thing is clear. We cannot restore politics until the perceived link between political contributions and public policy is broken.’
Mr Noonan had good reason to be wary of the perceptions created by corporate donations. In a six-year period up to 2000, his party was gifted £112,680 by businessman Denis O’Brien – much of it through golf classics.
The donations have now become legendary and will feature as part of the subject matter of the long-awaited Moriarty Tribunal report.
But by May 2002 – when Fine Gael was thrashed in the general election of that year – the next leader had no qualms about corporate donations.
As soon as he took over, Enda Kenny scrapped the corporate donations ban and once again opened the doors to business funding. An internal report by party strategist Frank Flannery urged a far more targeted and professional approach to fundraising if Fine Gael was to have any chance of matching the funding raised by Fianna Fáil’s infamous Galway tent and other events primarily supported by developers and construction companies.
Mr Kenny agreed and Anne Strain, a renowned Dublin-based fundraiser was headhunted from the Alzheimer Society of Ireland where she had raised millions for charity.
An extremely energetic and enthusiastic individual, she was in place in Fine Gael HQ before the end of 2002.
Since then, a reinvigorated national members’ draw has raised €9.3m in ticket sales. Last year, the party sold 15,395 tickets at €80 a go, channelling €1.2m into its election fund.
Ostensibly the draw is aimed at Fine Gael party members but it has in the past been deliberately targeted at corporate donors – even when Mr Noonan’s ban was in place.
In 2001, general secretary Tom Curran wrote on party-headed notepaper to company executives who were known to have donated to the party in the past. ‘I am writing to you on a personal level to offer you the opportunity of helping to fund democracy,’ he wrote, asking each donor to purchase books of tickets for €250.
The draw aside, Miss Strain also opened up other avenues of fundraising.
The single most important development in that regard was the introduction of professionally run golf classics at which companies and wealthy individuals were encouraged to provide sponsorship in return for teeing off with Enda Kenny and members of his front bench.
Legally, any company donation made at these events does not have to be disclosed anywhere as long as it is less than €5,078.95. Similarly, donations from individuals which are less than €634.87 also remain secret.
Now each year the party’s golf classics take place at the opulent K Club in Co. Kildare, at the salubrious Adare Golf Club in Limerick, and the luxurious Moor Park Golf Club in London – one of the most exclusive clubs in Britain.
Although no details of those present at these events are made public, an MoS investigation was able to establish the names of the winners of some of these golf classics.
Developers Treasury Holdings topped the winners’ list at Fine Gael’s 2005 Eastern Regional Golf Classic in the K Club, with construction giants CRH Plc coming in third place.
It is not known – and Fine Gael is not prepared to say – who represented these firms, how much they donated or whether they are routinely present at FG golf classics.
‘I’ll have to get back to you on that,’ said CRH finance director and board member Maeve Carton when contacted by the MoS this weekend.
Treasury Holdings MD John Bruder did not respond to a message left on his home phone. Other winners’ lists – this time from the 2009 Southern Region Golf Classic in the Adare Golf Club – reveal that Martinstown Stud, the home stud farm of JP McManus, recorded a fifth-place finish. Prominent Cork construction firm McCarthy Developments finished in third place.
A request for comment about the value of the donations made by Martinstown Stud and McCarthy Developments went unanswered by both companies this weekend.
This weekend, Fine Gael once again declined to make public its corporate donation lists, or how much each attendee pays.
In theory, the same company could have donated €5,000 annually for a decade – a total of 50,000 – without ever being identified publicly. Furthermore company executives and associates can make additional secret donations as individuals.
Evidence which emerged last year suggests that companies routinely pay several thousand euro to sponsor individual holes at such events, while each individual team member can often be expected to fork out €500.
Michael O’Flynn, a Nama developer, was named as a corporate sponsor. Mr O’Flynn sponsored a €1,500 fourball and was joined by a number of others, including estate agent Arthur French.
The O’Flynn Group also paid an undisclosed sum to sponsor the 18th hole at the K Club event. Also taking part in last year’s K Club Classic was accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and EBS CEO Fergus Murphy.
When it made its 2006 financial accounts available to an academic, Fine Gael had listed total earnings from golf classics of €100,905.
With the prospect of FG taking power, last year’s outings are estimated to have earned much closer to €150,000 – about the same amount that Fianna Fáil used to raise from its Galway tent.
Fine Gael also runs scores of local classics for candidates, which Enda Kenny will often attend. The same is true of business lunches and dinners. These kind of events typically raise about €20,000 for the candidate.
In 2008, the party also ventured abroad raising €30,000 through a New York dinner packed with corporate and private donors – all making donations that are below the declaration limit in Ireland.
For years Fine Gael – and Fianna Fáil – have declared no donations whatsoever in official donation statements to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) because all of the money taken in from each donor was below the declarable limit.
The practice has alarmed many, including SIPO, since there is no way of knowing what political influence donors may be buying.
Or, as Michael Noonan said 10 years ago: ‘We cannot restore politics until the perceived link between political contributions and public policy is broken.’
The question now is, with the office of finance minister within his reach, does he still believe what he said then?
Current Wicklow Fine Gael TD’s
When they come to your door asking for a Job ask them to account for their expenses and for full web access so we can all see them, also ask why we should pay them up to 10 times what they expect someone on job seekers allowance live on and you can tell them you will post their response here on this website for all of Wicklow to see.
The only change we are going to get with Fine Gael is personalities their policies are the same as Fianna Fail’s but different shade.
I am calling on these upstanding public representatives to present all their clamed expenses for each year for the last 2 years so we the citizens of Wicklow see where all this money went and I am calling on them also to explain to the voters of Wicklow why we should continue to pay them enormous salaries and pensions perks when the rest of us are struggling to hold on to our homes, jobs and dignity.
I believe a more fitting salary would be the average industrial wage.!
Thomas Clarke Independent Candidate for Wicklow.
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