Tribunal: Envelopes of cash left on tables

GUESTS left envelopes on the table after a private fundraising dinner for Fianna Fáil attended by former taoiseach Albert Reynolds, the Mahon Planning Tribunal heard yesterday.

The event, held on March 11, 1994 and attended by about 20 prominent Cork businessmen, was hosted by Cork chartered accountant Niall Welch, who described Mr Reynolds as a personal friend for 30 years.

Mr Welch explained how guests joined in the discussion after Mr Reynolds gave a talk on the Cork and national economic situation. Although the dinner was also organised to raise funds for Fianna Fáil, there was no mention of money — and Mr Welch rejected suggestions he had sought a £5,000 contribution from each guest.

“I would be very surprised if I would say please come to my house, the price is five thousand. That’s a lot of money,” Mr Welch told tribunal counsel Patricia Dillon SC.

The tribunal heard IR£50,000 in two lodgments of £25,000 each was made to Fianna Fáil party funds on the following Monday attributed to the Cork private dinner on the previous Friday night. According to Mr Welch about 20 people attended.

Asked to recall the evening, Mr Welch said he did not remember telling anyone the “going rate” was £5,000. However, media company boss Colm O Conaill, who attended the dinner, has told the tribunal “the figure mentioned by Niall Welch to me was £5,000”.

The tribunal is investigating claims by developer Tom Gilmartin that his former business partner Cork-based businessman Owen O’Callaghan told him he handed Mr Reynolds IR£150,000 in cash in March 1994 following a private dinner. Mr O’Callaghan, described as one of the dinner organisers, and Mr Reynolds deny the allegation.

Mr Welch said he would have told everybody attending the purpose of the dinner was to hear Mr Reynolds speak on the economy in a private way and, secondly, to raise funds for the party.

He said he had been approached by either FF chief fundraiser Des Richardson or Mr O’Callaghan to host the dinner. Mr Welch said the dinner was his contribution to the party. A thank-you letter was written to Mr Welch the following week by Bertie Ahern, the then finance minister and FF national finance committee chairman.

Businessman John Fleming, a west Cork construction firm boss, said he left an envelope containing a £5,000 cheque on a table where he saw other envelopes being left.

Former FF general secretary Pat Farrell said there was a serious reliance on voluntary fund raising at the time of the dinner in 1994 before the introduction of Exchequer funding for political parties. He said he was not conscious of money being raised at the dinner and did not recall envelopes being left at the table.

Mr Farrell agreed it was party procedure to issue individual receipts on foot of donations. He said he did not know why individual receipts were not given in connection with the Cork dinner.

He said Sean Fleming was head of finance and one of his roles was the recording of contributions and receipts.

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