Trade unions and construction companies with Irish ties were the main benefactors at the 20th annual Friends of Sinn Féin (FSF) USA Fundraising Dinner held in New York last night.
Guests at $500 a head piled into the Metropolitan West Ballroom at the The Sheraton Hotel Times Square to the sounds of “The Town that I Loved so Well,” “Grace” and “Whiskey in the Jar” with hopes of raising up to $400,000 to continue the work of FSF in supporting Sinn Féin throughout the US.
Announcing it as the most successful fundraising dinner in its 20 year history, Fay Devlin, a founding member of the FSF board who was revealed as being one of its top ten donors by the Irish Times earlier this year, told the attendance that almost 100 tables had been sold for for the evening.
For their trouble, guests were treated to praise for the work of Irish Americans in the quest for Irish unity from both Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Vice-President Mary-Lou McDonald, flown into the city by FSF to speak on the current political situation, as well as the position of Sinn Fein in these situations, in the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland governments.
Before leaving for the States yesterday afternoon, Adams had acknowledged via Twitter the criticism and accusations directed at himself and McDonald suggesting that they were abandoning the country to live the lap of luxury in New York at a costly fundraising event.
"Half slept. Off 2 New York & Toronto. Just in case the Taoiseach [Irish Prime Minister] is wondering where I am. Missing him already," he tweeted before catching a flight that only brought him into the Big Apple a few hours before the dinner.
He addressed these concerns of Fine Gael and Labour again in his speech, addressing McDonald to say: "Just so you know, the Irish Labor Party and the Fine Gael Party have been complaining, Mary Lou, about you and I being here.
“And these is the parties that has sent more Irish people in the last eight years, half a million Irish people, scattered throughout the world, not least here in the United States, because of their disastrous policies, economic policies.
“So I would just like to send a word to the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste [Irish Deputy Prime Minister],” he continued.
“Mary Lou and I are coming back. We'll see you in the Dáil [Irish Parliament] and we'll hold you to account for all the things you haven't done despite all your promises in the last election to do so."
Half slept. Off 2 New York & Toronto. Just in case the Taoiseach is wondering where I am. Missing him already.
— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) November 5, 2015
Sitting at separate tables in the center of the room, Adams and McDonald spoke with guests and posed for photos throughout dinner, standing to attention as the musicians stationed on the stage running along the side of the ballroom played Amhrán na bhFiann followed by The Star Spangled Banner before taking to the stage up front themselves to address the crowds.
The last to speak at this twentieth annual dinner, Adams recalled the different situation he faced when the very first fundraiser took place in 1995. At the time, he was threatened with lobbies petitioning then-US President Bill Clinton to prevent Adams from being awarding a US visa and from entering the country.
In response, he applauded the determination of the Irish-American community for not letting this happen in just one of many examples given throughout all the speeches of the influence of Irish America.
"You won and the Brits lost,” he proclaimed. “They underestimated, as they have consistently done, the strength and the commitment of Irish America, and the extent of your political influence."
This Irish American influence was constantly celebrated throughout the night, from the introductory remarks of FSF President Jim Cullen, to the speeches of McDonald, Devlin and Adams.
As can be expected just a few short months from 2016 and the 100-year commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, there was much talk of the influence of Irish Americans on this major Irish historical event too.
Adams referenced the Proclamation of Independence of the Irish Republic first unveiled by leaders during that Rising that states the actions taken on that Easter Weekend where "supported by her [Ireland’s] exiled children of America", continuing to say that the Rising wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for the input of Irish Americans.
McDonald stayed in the present day in her own praise saying, "we are deeply appreciative of all of you in this room and right across Irish America for your support for Sinn Féin, for peace in Ireland and for Irish unity."
As well as the many nods and pats on the back given from the stage, on each table were placed booklets of a paper written by Dr Ruan O'Donnell, a Senior Lecturer in History at University of Limerick, entitled "America and the 1916 Rising", and a separate outline of the events leading up to, during and immediately following the Easter Rising which Cullen asked the crowd to keep as a keepsake of the historic 2016 commemoration.
In a room with a vast majority of men, it was the role of women that was more often applauded with many references to the women of the Rising. Adams, in particular, mentioned the role of Elizabeth O'Farrell in parleying before the surrender from 1916 leaders mentioned while Cullen commended McDonald herself highly saying, "I like to watch Mary Lou perform in the Dáil" while she makes officials "squirm in their seats".
It felt like the main message from Sinn Féin for all of the guests in attendance is that they still had a part to play, taking the opportunity to explain ongoing talks in Northern Ireland in particular and the recent political crisis caused by the walk out of the Democratic Unionist Party following accusations from Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable George Hamilton that IRA members were involved in the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan.
“It is my firm conviction in the 20 years that I’ve been coming back and forth here, you never let Ireland down. The people who are assembled here, the people who are not here, the people who work way on away on these issues, you’ve never ever let the people of Ireland down,” Adams said.
“And Sinn Féin will never let you down.”
As the talking finished, the stage was cleared, and the musicians once again struck up to play “A Nation Once Again”, the room quickly cleared following the exit of the Sinn Féin leader, following him as he and Sinn Féin work at “uniting Ireland”, as they have for the last few decades..