De Rossa says Garland sought aid without party's authorisation

 

NO funds were ever sought by the Workers' Party from either the Soviet government or the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Minister for Social Welfare, Mr De Rossa, told the High Court yesterday.

But Mr De Rossa said a seniors party official, Mr Sean Garland, had admitted seeking funds from the Communist Party in Moscow without authorisation.

Yesterday was the fifth day of the hearing of a libel action by Mr De Rossa against Independent Newspapers following an article in the Sunday Independent by Eamon Dunphy on December 13th, 1992.

During most of yesterday's hearing, Mr De Rossa was cross-examined by counsel for Independent Newspapers, Mr Patrick MacEntee SC. Proceedings were briefly interrupted at one point when Mr Paul O'Higgins SC, for Mr De Rossa, accused Mr MacEntee of "disgraceful" conduct.

Mr MacEntee was questioning the Minister about a Workers Party ardchomhairle meeting on January 11th, 1992.

Mr De Rossa said Peter Kane was the administrative secretary and he normally took minutes at ardchomhairle meetings. Asked by Mr MacEntee if John Gallagher was minutes secretary then, Mr De Rossa said not as far as he was aware.

At this stage of the cross-examination, Mr O'Higgins intervened and said Mr MacEntee's conduct was quite disgraceful and he wished to deal with it in the absence of the jury.

When the jury returned after a brief absence, Mr De Rossa said he could not recall every detail of what happened at the January 11th meeting, which he had chaired. The party was in turmoil and he was proposing it be reconstituted.

At a certain point in the meeting, the question of a report in the newspapers that money had been paid to Sean Garland by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was raised. Mr Garland, who was then WP national treasurer having stepped down as general secretary in mid-1991, was asked if this was true.

Mr Garland said it was true he had sought money but he had not received any. He was asked what authorisation he had for seeking such money and he had said none, that he had done it of his own accord.

There had been more than 40 people at the meeting, Mr De Rossa said, including all senior party members and its elected representatives. Mr Garland was asked by somebody whether there was any truth in newspaper reports that a bout £30,000 had been received by Mr Garland around February, 1991.

"Sean Garland denied he had received such money but said he had asked for money," added Mr De Rossa. It was quite a heated meeting. The future of the party was being discussed. His recollection was that that the question came quite late in the two-day meeting.

Asked by Mr MacEntee if he had been anxious to know when Mr Garland had sought this money, Mr De Rossa said that at that point he was not. "The party was clearly split between those who wanted to reform the party and those who did not."

Mr Garland had taken a position in opposition to reform. They were rapidly reaching a point where they were seeking to organise a special conference of the party to reconstitute it. Issues of where and how the money was sought were not uppermost.

Mr MacEntee asked Mr De Rossa if he had taken any steps to find out anything about the request for funds which Mr Garland admitted he made.

Mr De Rossa said he had not because there was no hope of a reconciliation within the party.

"Clearly, we were going in different directions. My main concern was that we would get on with organising the special conference and get the party reconstituted."

The question of breaches of the rules did not arise at that stage. It was a matter of getting on with reorganising.

Mr MacEntee asked was it not important to know who had asked for money and on what terms.

Mr De Rossa said it was not. All he knew was there were reports in late 1991 which indicated that there were documents Moscow, accounts of some kind, which showed payment to a person called Sean Garland and in some cases to Sean Nolan in the sum of £30,000 or £33,000. Mr Garland had indicated the reports were not true and that he had never received money.

Mr De Rossa said he did not know anything about the accounts -alleged to have been in Moscow, other than reports he had read in the newspapers. He thought the reports had been in a number of newspapers in Ireland and Britain.

Mr MacEntee asked if he had inquired if there were any records in WP headquarters of any requests for money having been made. Mr De Rossa said he had not. "I knew from my involvement as chairman of the ardchomhairle that no such funds had come into the accounts of the Workers' Party.

He knew no such request for funds had ever been made by the political committee or the ardchomhairle. He accepted what Mr Garland had said, that he had sought money without getting permission.

Perhaps in normal circumstances he would have inquired "but given the context of that meeting, it was, the end effectively of the Workers Party, certainly as I knew it. It was certainly the end of my membership of it."

Within a matter of weeks there was a special conference to reconstitute the party. He failed to get the two-thirds majority needed, and he resigned from the WP within seven days of the conference, as did 80 per cent of the membership, six of the seven TDs and 30 of the 40 councillors. Within weeks they formed Democratic Left.

Mr De Rossa said between the January 11th meeting and the special conference, which he thought was on February 15th, every waking minute" was spent organising the conference. He was not going to waste time and involve himself in what he regarded as detail or misdemeanours by Sean Garland or anybody else.

Mr MacEntee said Mr De Rossa had described asking for money from Russia as a misdemeanour. He took it that Mr De Rossa did not consider it to be a serious matter.

Mr De Rossa replied that it was not a serious matter to seek funds from other parties. The money was not sought from Russia. As he understood it, it was sought from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It was not a crime to seek financial support from other parties. What was wrong was that Mr Garland did not raise the matter with the ardchomhairle and seek approval.

Earlier, Mr De Rossa said there were occasions when the WP would receive invitations to attend conferences and they would not have the money to travel. If the fare was provided, they would send a delegation.

Mr MacEntee asked if the WP had any support from East Germany. Mr De Rossa said there was an occasion in 1987-'88. There was a request to a party in Germany to know if they would be in a position to provide them with a printing machine.

It would have been a decision of the WP ardchomhairle or the political committee. The idea was that they would seek to buy it from them. The reputation of German printing machines was quite high and the WP machine was clapped out.

Asked if he got money for the printing press from the Russians, Mr De Rossa said no.