Current Affairs Politics

Seán Gallagher – A Fianna Fáil Sockpuppet?

If one were to believe the polls (and some commentators) the “Independent” candidate for the presidency, Seán Gallagher, may be a serious contender for becoming the next Uachtarán na hÉireann. We are told that he is well-ahead of his nearest rival, Labour’s Michael D. Higgins; so much so that the Higgins’ campaign came up with a rather slick trick to downgrade the other runners in the hopes of siphoning off some of their votes (or at least transfers). However, just how independent is this particular Independent? In fact, as we shall see, he is anything but.

In 2009 Seán Gallagher, as a Louth member of Fianna Fáil’s Ard Comhairle (the party leadership), appeared at the Ógra Fianna Fáil National Youth Conference in Bundoran. His account of the event was posted on Fianna Fáil’s website and I include it in full so there can be no doubts about where he stands:

“Last night I had the honour of speaking at the Ógra Fianna Fáil National Youth Conference in Bundoran. It was a fun night, full of excitement as we watched the Ireland match unfold and as always with these occasions there was plenty of cheer and goodwill as the Ógra members celebrated another successful conference.

This wasn’t the first time I had attended a Fianna Fáil Youth Conference, back in the 1980s I was also a member of Ógra Fianna Fáil and served on the National Youth Committee. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of the lessons I learnt back then have stood to me over the years and have certainly helped me in my business career.

The thing about Ógra Fianna Fáil, and about politics in general, is that it teaches you all about people. It gives you great experience in meeting new people, making contacts and forming friendships. Any businessman, salesman or manager will tell you just how important those skills are. People are the foundations upon which any successful business operation is built and it is the relationships you form and how you foster them that will determine whether your business lives or dies.

I was also reminded of the other ways that my Ógra involvement has helped shape my career. It obviously thought me the fundamentals of public speaking, a skill that will stand to anyone who has to make presentations or pitches. You learn how to address an audience and to get your message across. That’s a skill that a lot of businesspeople I encounter still haven’t mastered – you only have to take a look at some of the presentations on the Dragon’s Den to see that.

There certainly was no shortage of dynamic young talent at the Ógra Fianna Fáil Conference. I came across so many impressive, confident and intelligent young men and women, busting with ideas. I was greatly encouraged that the political and business leaders of the future will certainly help move this country forward.”

So, how politically “independent” does that sound to you?

In 2010 the Irish Independent reported that Gallagher was the favourite to stand for Fianna Fáil in the Louth constituency, and just how integral he was to the party machine there:

“The businessman is considering seeking the Fianna Fail nomination in Louth following Mr Ahern’s announcement of his retirement.

Mr Gallagher masterminded the vote management strategy at the last general election in the constituency, which saw Mr Ahern’s vote kept down to ensure Fianna Fail TD Seamus Kirk got elected.

Despite Mr Ahern’s high profile, Mr Kirk actually finished ahead of him on the first count in 2007.

Mr Ahern claimed credit for the plan working, but Mr Gallagher is attributed as the real brains behind it. Fianna Fail sources say there is little love lost between the pair.

Local party activists said they were “not sure” Mr Ahern would back Mr Gallagher’s candidacy.

Mr Gallagher is regarded in Fianna Fail as potentially part of a new wave of politicians. He has experience from county enterprise boards, youth work, disabilities and north-south bodies, so there’s a broad mix of enterprise and community involvement.

The 48-year-old was also appointed to the new board of FAS earlier this year.”

Seán Gallagher was more than just a Fianna Fáil appointee to FÁS. In fact they lauded him with several cushy quango positions including the Drogheda Port Company and Intertrade Ireland, augmenting his (debatable) business interests. Unfortunately that last one has got him into a wee bit of trouble as the Irish Independent has detailed:

“ONE of Independent candidate Sean Gallagher’s firms got cash from a state enterprise quango he served on.

He was appointed to the board of North-South body Intertrade Ireland at the end of 2007 — and annual accounts for that year reveal they gave €41,970 to his Smart Homes company.

Yesterday, Mr Gallagher became impatient and declined to answer the question when asked if getting the funding was a conflict of interest, and said to speak to Intertrade Ireland.

He also became irate when asked why he had missed so many of the board meetings.

“I have been working for the last four years,” he told the Irish Independent.

“Did you ask about the subcommittees, the equity network and the work that I do to help fund small businesses?

“Give me the dates and come back and ask me for specific reasons and I’ll give you the dates that I was probably doing stuff.

“I would love if you guys would go and do positive stuff.

“Do you have any other understanding of the amount of schools I have spoken to, the enterprise agencies I have spoken to, of the universities I have spoken to, of all the small companies I have helped, and these are the questions you want to ask me?” he added.

Intertrade Ireland said the grant from its technology transfer fund was approved before Mr Gallagher joined the board in December that year — and denied there was a conflict of interest.

But it also emerged that he managed to miss half of all Intertrade Ireland board meetings over the past two-and-a-half years — despite getting €30,000 in fees.”

And Gallagher didn’t just mastermind the campaign of FF Louth TD Seamus Kirk in 2007. He also stood shoulder-to-shoulder with FF Mayo TD Dara Calleary during his re-election run earlier this year, as examined by the Herald:

“HE INSISTS he’s no longer a member of Fianna Fail, but that didn’t stop Sean Gallagher from claiming that it was the only party to get the country back on track.

Launching the election campaign of Dara Calleary, Gallagher stood shoulder to shoulder with the Fianna Fail TD and announced that he was the ‘face of change’ that would fix the future.

Speaking at the time to hundreds of party faithful, Gallagher showered praise on the Fianna Fail politician.

“I believe that Dara is the face of change in the political environment,” he said.

“What we have had up to now to get us here, will not work to get us to the future. But it can change, and with people like Dara it will happen and it will work again.”

The Dragon’s Den star went on to describe the outgoing Minister of State as “a fabulous, outstanding debater and communicator at all levels”, during the official campaign launch held in Downhill House Hotel in February.”

Such was Seán Gallagher’s long involvement with the Fianna Fáil party that he virtually became synonymous with it. If there was a Fianna Fáil opening of an envelope Gallagher was there to hold it (though no brown envelopes, I should add). This perhaps explains his inability to condemn Fianna Fáil’s deplorable record in government on RTÉ’s now infamous Primetime Debate while his campaign PR staff went into hysterics (or so I’ve been informed). But he was soon back into voter-friendly mode after some late night, erm, discussions, as the Irish Times outlined:

“INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE Seán Gallagher has moved to distance himself from Fianna Fáil’s performance in government over the last four years after appearing to equivocate on the issue when questioned on the RTÉ Prime Time debate.

Mr Gallagher said yesterday that he “abhorred” the decisions made by the previous FF-led administration and said he was disillusioned with the party’s loss of contact with its grassroots when he resigned from Fianna Fáil earlier this year.

Asked by Miriam O’Callaghan if he felt Fianna Fáil had let the country down, Mr Gallagher said that he couldn’t answer for the party.

He said the reason he was seen to hesitate when asked the question was that he was seeking to distinguish between Fianna Fáil ministers in cabinet and its ordinary rank and file members.

“I was asked to condemn Fianna Fáil and the first thing that came into my mind was the thousands of ordinary decent men and women who are the grassroots of Fianna Fáil . . . and I didn’t want to condemn them because they weren’t in government, they weren’t in cabinet.””

Hmm…

Another Gallagher problem as been his memory (not the first Fianna Fáil member to have that problem, of course). He has been somewhat confused about when exactly he quit the party. Gallagher’s campaign had initially claimed that he had quit FF in March 2010. Except he hadn’t. He had in fact quit in January 2011. The Journal reports that:

“SEÁN GALLAGHER HAS clarified the timing of his departure from Fianna Fáil – insisting that in practice he left the party 18 months ago.

The Independent presidential candidate acknowledged that he resigned in writing only in January of this year. But he said this was merely a formality and he effectively left his local cumann in March 2010.

Speaking to RTÉ News, Gallagher said: “I left officially on March 1 2010. That was my last meeting when I stepped down at a meeting of my local cumann.” He added that he had “officially resigned in writing earlier this year because my position [on the national executive] hadn’t been filled and I thought it prudent to tidy that up.”

Questioned about his role on the party’s national executive, Gallagher insisted it was merely an organisational role and “doesn’t deal with issues or policies”.”

Okay. First things first. Seán Gallagher “officially” left his cumann (local branch) of Fianna Fáil in March 2010. He then “officially” left Fianna Fáil’s Ard Comhairle (national leadership) in January 2011. Yet he was campaigning for Fianna Fáil candidates in Mayo (the FF TD Dara Calleary mentioned above), Donegal (FF’s nominee Charlie McConalogue) and Monaghan (FF candidate Margaret Conlons) in February 2011. A year after he left the party?

No surprise then that Celia Larkin should pen an impassioned public defence of Gallagher and Fianna Fáil, calling for both to take on their opponents.  Or that in return Bruce Arnold (!) can point out the many holes in the claims of the “Independent” candidate Seán Gallagher, as he details in an article for the Irish Independent:

“Sean Gallagher’s picture of himself and Fianna Fail is now being amended in the light of facts previously muddied. He says on his campaign website — or did until this weekend — that he was ‘a sporadic’ party member.

Yet his Fianna Fail career was full-on and privileged. It lasted much longer than he says; it was anything but sporadic.

He says he “got involved in the 1980s”. This was with Ogra Fianna Fail, which he headed, in Cavan, “for a year”. This would be difficult without becoming a party member. He does not tell us about that or when it happened. He gives the impression that he drifted away, coming back to help in the government’s ‘alcohol education programme’ and to work with Rory O’Hanlon and Seamus Kirk.

He claims he left Fianna Fail “in terms of being a member of the party, or being active, back in 2009”. And he gives the reason: “The party had moved away from its grassroots, the ordinary people who were struggling.”

Yet in January 2011, he was still a member of its National Executive, which is not possible without being a party member. When he ‘resigned’, on January 5, 2011, by letter to the Fianna Fail Party Secretary Sean Dorgan, it was simply as “a constituency delegate” to the National Executive.

He concluded: “I want, however, to express my continued support to you and your colleagues in this challenging period for the party.”

Fianna Fail was then in political freefall, facing an annihilation it richly deserved and got. Yet Gallagher remained a member, sympathetic to the senior leadership. He helped senior figures in the following general election.

His campaign team has so far been unable to establish whether he has resigned from the party, and if so, when. None of the above has anything whatsoever to do with the reasons he gave on October 3 for the parting of the ways in 2009. What he said about that did not in fact happen.

Moreover, he has rejected all political parties because their fight is “about who was going to be in power”. Yet he went on being heavily involved for a further two years in Fianna Fail — both as a National Executive member and still longer as a party member.

In July of this year… he told Pat Kenny yet another, quite different, story about his Fianna Fail membership.

He joined “to advance the introduction of important legislation”. So there were now two completely different and distinct reasons, the first being the legislation, the second representing Louth.

“Let me explain about Fianna Fail,” he told Kenny. He then gave yet another reason for his Fianna Fail membership: the need for youth services.

What he did not tell Kenny was the story of his close and continuing relationship with Fianna Fail throughout the whole period of his presidential challenge.

This was because the party held the key to his gaining the councils on which his nomination depended. In some of them, the Fianna Fail party whip was imposed in his favour.

Gallagher represents Fianna Fail. He is their default candidate. He has made little of close ties with the party.

He cannot tell us, through his campaign team, when he left Fianna Fail, suggesting he has not left.

Fianna Fail is also being coy. Last Saturday night, the party said it would not comment on whether Gallagher was still a member of the party, saying it was up to him and his campaign team to deal with this issue.

The team is silent on this.”

Well they might be silent for they know the answer as well as we do. Based upon the evidence above most readers would conclude that Seán Gallagher is nothing more than a Fianna Fáil sockpuppet. This campaign is not about the election of a head of state. It is about the re-launch of the Fianna Fáil brand, repackaged for the old party grassroots and the newer converts. It is about reinvigorating the party locally and giving an electoral dry-run to a person who, if he doesn’t succeed this time, will undoubtedly run for Dáil Éireann in the near future. Seán Gallagher, next president of Ireland? Or Seán Gallagher, next president of Fianna Fáil?

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