The damage delivered to Seán Gallagher’s presidential ambitions as a result of the revelations on RTÉ’s Frontline Presidential Debate is continuing to send disruptive ripples across the media and bloggosphere but it remains to be seen if the outcome will prove fatal. Gallagher was accused by Martin McGuinness of personally receiving a five thousand euro cheque from a local businessman in County Armagh for a Fianna Fáil fund-raising drive. Despite several opportunities to confirm the accusation Gallagher denied everything until in a series of increasingly desperate about-faces he admitted the substance of the charges.
“Gallagher: You’ve described me also as a businessman, yes and I’m proud of that, and I’m proud that I created jobs. With regard to the fundraising, the fundraising event in particular, was set up by Fianna Fáil headquarters, I was asking as a local businessman to inform those in the community that might wish to attend, I suggested and invited perhaps three or four… There were not thirty… There were not thirty people there, Pat….
Kenny: Can I ask you for… for a clarification by the way… Seán have you been to Cairde Fáil dinners, have you bought tables at Cairde Fáil dinners.
Gallagher: I was, I believe at about two Cairde Fáil dinners over the last twenty years.
McGuinness: Pat… Pat I actually spoke to a gentleman who attended that fundraiser in Dundalk in the Crown Plaza Hotel, two hours before I came to this studio.
Kenny: When was that fundraiser?
McGuinness: It was two years ago.
Gallagher: It was 2008 I believe.
McGuinness: It was two years ago according to my information. This gentleman told me there was between 30 and 35 people in the room, he also told me that after the event, that Seán called around to his house, and took a cheque for five thousand euro.
Gallagher: Not true.
McGuinness: Seán didn’t even address in the course of [Interrupted] his, in the course of his commentary,
Gallagher: I’m just finishing…
McGuinness: He says it’s not true, he’s begging… he’s begging for someone to come forward, and say that it was true, and I would caution you Seán at this stage, that you’re on [Sic] very murky waters, because one thing is for absolutely certain…
Gallagher: Perhaps you….
McGuinness: If I’m elected president of Ireland, I will stand against croneyism, I will stand against greed and self- [Inaudible]. [Audience applause] …and I will stand against, I will stand against the brown envelope culture that effectively destroyed our economy.
Gallagher: I have never been involved in that culture let me explain to you. Let me ask Martin, perhaps he might identify the name and background of the individual he’s referring to. I can tell you quite clearly, that I invited perhaps 2-3 people to that event, at the event, people were asked would they like a photograph as is normal at these functions. I personally delivered, if that’s the case then I don’t remember it, delivered a photograph… I can tell you…
McGuinness: But that confirms what the gentleman told me, he also said that when you arrived at his house you took away a cheque for 5,000 euro…
Gallagher: That is not correct…
McGuinness: That is not correct?
Gallagher: Absolutely not…
McGuinness: Alright then… I have to say I think you’re in deep, deep trouble.
Kenny: I want to try and move on but I think we can clarify some of the….
Kenny: A development which I want to put to Seán Gallagher, on the Martin McGuinness for President Twitter account, Sinn Féin are saying they are going to produce the man who gave you the check for 5,000. Do you want to change what you said or are you still saying that it just simply didn’t happen. Are they up to dirty tricks or what?
Gallagher: “Well, you know I’ve always tried to stay above any negative campaigning and I understand from a query during the week in one of the newspapers and when my campaign team sent back the information on the said character, I don’t want to cast any aspersions on him….”
Kenny: “So you know who he is?”
Gallagher: “He’s a convicted criminal, a fuel smuggler, investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau and rented the office out to Gerry Adams, Martin’s colleague, in the last general election. I don’t want to get involved in this, I don’t believe….”
Kenny: “Can we put this to rest now. Did you get a cheque from this guy or not?”
Gallagher: “I have no recollection of getting a cheque from this guy…”
[Audience boo and hiss – someone shouts “Liar!”]
Gallagher: “I can tell you, let me explain this very simply.”
McGuinness: “The man said you went to his house Sean.”
Gallagher: “I explained that they’re were two or three people that I asked….invited, I don’t know the man very well that’s in question…”
Kenny: “Hang on a second, you’re saying you went around to a fuel smuggler and all sorts of things and invited him to a Fianna Fáil do?”
Gallagher: “I’ll tell you quite simply Pat, I was asked…”
Kenny: “No, You labelled him one thing and yet you invited him, so which is it? Or are you happy with both?”
Gallagher: “I wasn’t aware at the time 3 years ago. I’m just making the point that I was asked to pass the information on to local business communities which I did. I want to say one thing. This is not what the presidential election should be about.”
[Audience clap – someone says “absolutely”]
Kenny: “Martin McGuinness, do you want to…..? Briefly?”
McGuinness: I think Seán should answer the question. And the question is, did he go to a man’s house, a man who spoke to me on the telephone several hours ago, and collect a cheque for €5,000 euro?”
Gallagher: “What Martin has said is that I drove to the man’s house to deliver a photograph of the event and that he gave me a cheque. I may well have delivered the photograph if he gave me an envelope… I…”
Gallagher: “The point is, if he gave me the cheque, it was made out to Fianna
Fáil headquarters and it was delivered, and that was that. It had nothing to do with me.”
McGuinness: “That’s a clear admission of what I said earlier.”
Kenny: Michael D Higgins, do you want to say anything on this, Michael D
Michael D Higgins: “I think that it’s very important that there be absolutely full and total disclosure and resolution of this and as quickly as possible. You know, what you say when you take the office of President… I dedicate my abilities to the welfare ofthe people of Ireland… That’s all of the people of Ireland and it’s far beyond any of this kind of thing, quite frankly, and I do think we should, in a way if we can, I think these matters should be clarified, they’re quite urgent…”
Kenny: “Hang on a second Michael, it’s all very well to be pious and all the rest of it.”
Higgins: “No, it’s not pious, it’s a man being straight.”
Kenny: “No, hang on, you want to be judged on your record. If there are things that we need to know about all the 7 candidates, about their record, we need to know it. So, you want to walk away from this particular controversy…”
Higgins: “No, I don’t at all. Could I have said more clearly that the matter needs to be clarified? And as a matter of urgency and immediately. And I think that’s very… that’s what the public want, you know in the end it isn’t about us seven here, it’s about what’s good for Ireland and what’s good for the Irish people.”
Since the dramatic revelations in the debate the Gallagher campaign, and the candidate himself, have been desperately spinning their PR machine trying to deflect the storm of criticism while rounding on McGuinness and anyone else with the temerity to question the new Golden Boy of Irish politics (who is actually looking very much like just another Old Boy).
However Hugh Morgan, the businessman it is claimed gave Gallagher the cheque for Fianna Fáil, has issued his own detailed statement:
“I wish to clarify and set the record straight in relation to the dealings I had with Sean Gallagher which resulted in my attendance at a Fianna Fail fundraiser in the Crown Plaza Hotel, Dundalk, on the 1st July 2008.
Sean Gallagher , who I had never met previous to this, contacted me by phone. He first phoned me on the 6th June 2008 and invited me to attend the above fundraiser. In the course of the call he requested a donation of €5,000.00 for Fianna Fail. He advised me that this type of fundraising would replace the annual Galway Tent Fundraiser. In return for the €5,000.00 donation I was promised a private audience with the Taoiseach and I would get a photograph taken with him.
He told me that the Taoiseach would give an up-date on the economy in the South which in his words was ‘beginning to wobble’
On the 9th June he again phoned me to confirm my attendance . I confirmed that I would attend and was prepared to give the donation he requested. He left two mobile phone numbers for me to contact him on.
On the 27th June Sean Gallagher visited my business premises at Killean, County Armagh. I wrote a cheque for €5,000.00 and gave it to him personally. I still have the stub of the cheque , This payment is declared in my Company accounts and was cleared through my bank on the 1st July 2008.
I then attended the fundraiser which was also attended by other businessmen from South Armagh, North Louth and across the Northeast. Sean Gallagher greeted the guests on arrival and directed us to the room at the top of the Hotel where the fundraiser was held.
Brian Cowen gave a speech on the economy and predicted a soft landing. At the end of the night Sean Gallagher introduced me to Brian Cowen and facilitated a photograph to be taken of myself and him. Approximately one week later Sean Gallagher called back to my business and gave me the photograph.
It is a fact that approximately fourteen years ago I was convicted of tax evasion in relation to fuel smuggling in Northern Ireland. As a consequence to that, I have repaid the Exchequer and paid a substantial fine. I was never investigated by CAB or any other agency in the Republic.
Since that time I have developed a successful international business known as Morgan Fuels.
I employ over eighty people in Ireland ,both North and South. I have business interests in Ireland , Britan and Europe and the Morgan Fuel card can be used up to 4,000 service stations in fourteen countries across Europe.I am also the official sponsor of the Armagh County teams of the GAA.”
Is this the end of Seán Gallagher’s presidential hopes? Judging by some online commentators and activists a significant number of people seem unconcerned by the many, many questions hanging over the nominally Independent candidate. What this says about the citizenry of Ireland, and the morality of our society corrupted as it was by the Celtic Tiger years, is open to question.
Only the election day will tell us whether the Irish people are prepared to turn their back on the squalid crony politics of the last three decades or whether they are willingly prepared to be hoodwinked yet again.