Sean Gallagher’s links to Fianna Fail may cost him the Presidential election – after confirmation he collected a donation to the party from a convicted criminal just three years ago.
The controversy has seen support for Gallagher slump with the bookies with Labor’s Michael D Higgins re-installed as favorite to win the Thursday election.
Sinn Fein candidate Martin McGuinness landed the potential bodyblow in a live television debate on Monday night when he outlined details of Gallagher’s involvement in a near $8,000 donation by a fuel smuggler.
Gallagher tried to distance himself from the allegation at first but has now admitted that he ‘may have delivered the donation from a convicted criminal and fuel smuggler’ in 2008.
The Irish Examiner newspaper has named the donor as Hugh Morgan, a Newry based businessman who was convicted of smuggling fuel in the 1990s when he received a suspended sentence. Morgan also has close links with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
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Having at first denied McGuinness’s claims that he had personally collected the cheque from Morgan’s home after a Dundalk fundraiser for Brian Cowen, Gallagher then backtracked.
Although he said he didn’t want to cast aspersions on the candidate, Gallagher then admitted: “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.”
Pushed as to whether or not he had accepted the cheque from Morgan, Gallagher added: “I have no recollection of getting a cheque from this guy. I can tell you, let me explain this very simply. I explained that there were two or three people that I asked. I don’t know the man very well that’s in question.”
McGuinness has vowed to expand on the issue at a press conference on Tuesday although Sinn Fein have denied that Morgan will attend the event.
Responding to claims from McGuinness that he had driven to the man’s house to deliver a photo from the 2008 event and collect the check in question, Gallagher appeared to back-up the Sinn Fein story.
“What I have done, I may well have delivered the photograph. If he gave me an envelope I . . . if he gave me the cheque it was made out to Fianna Fáil headquarters and it was delivered and that was that. It was nothing to do with me,” said Gallagher who also denied he was aware of Morgan’s background in 2008.
McGuinness maintains that Morgan was one of 35 people invited to the Cowen led Fianna Fail fundraiser at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Dundalk when each guest contributed almost $8,000 to party funds.
“This particular gentleman told me that not alone did Seán arrange it, Seán arranged for the photographs and brought the photographs to his house and Seán also called around to his house to collect the cheque for €5,000,” said McGuinness.
“Now that is indisputable. That’s an absolute disgrace and clearly shows the rottenness of the system that went before in terms of the cronyism, the developers, the speculators and those who effectively destroyed the economy of this country and Seán is up to his neck in all of that.”
The Fianna Fail links is clearly hurting Gallagher with commentators convinced it could yet cost him the election.
A former member of the party’s National Executive, Gallagher is now out to 5/4 from 1/3 with bookmakers who make Higgins the new favorite at 4/5.