Gallagher repeats cheque denial

Wed, Oct 26, 2011, 01:00

Independent candidate Seán Gallagher is battling to get his faltering presidential campaign back on track after struggling to answer questions about his business dealings and involvement in a Fianna Fáil fundraiser during Monday night’s televised debate.

In a media interview today he repeated categorical denials he had ever collected a €5,000 cheque from a businessman, and convicted fuel smuggler, for a Fianna Fáil fund-raiser in Co Louth in 2008. Mr Gallagher gave the interview to local radio station LMFM.

His denial followed a series of interviews yesterday in which he asserted that he had done nothing improper. For the last 24-hours Mr Gallagher has sought to counter an apparent concession on RTÉ’s Frontline programme the previous night that he might have done so.

However, later yesterday, the businessman Hugh Morgan issued a lengthy statement alleging Mr Gallagher collected the cheque from him at Morgan Fuels headquarters in Co Armagh.

Today, the Sinn Féin presidential candidate Martin McGuinness today sought to claim credit for having “exposed the façade” he suggested had been put up by Mr Gallagher.

Mr McGuinness claimed he had “done a service” to the Irish people with his dramatic interjection during The Frontline debate. 

“The issue that I raised was a very legitimate issue. I for the life of me can’t understand why anybody would think I didn’t have the right to raise an issue which clearly exposed, I suppose, the façade that Sean put up. I think we’ve seen over the last 48 hours the real Sean Gallagher,” Mr McGuinness said.

During the debate involving the seven presidential candidates, Mr Gallagher also had difficulties in explaining a director’s loan that breached company law, when questioned by a member of the audience.

Yesterday, he refused to answer outstanding questions about the €82,829 loan of 2009 from his company Beach House Training and Consulting Ltd. Approached by The Irish Times, he referred questions on the matter to his press agent, Richard Moore. 

“If you have any question e-mail it to Richard and I will be happy to deal with it,” he said. He then got into his car and was driven away.

However, Mr Gallagher has not responded to questions submitted to him through Mr Moore over recent days concerning the loan.

Speaking on the Michael Reade programme on LMFM radio this morning, Mr Gallagher said he was in the "dying days" of his campaign and had more than 60 or 70 questions from journalists "local and national".

"I don’t have a party political office. I don’t have 20 or 30 of a staff and we are trying to answer questions…”

When it was put to him that emails from both The Irish Times and the Tonight with Vincent Browne programme on TV3 had not been responded to, Mr Gallagher said:

“Let me explain this. This is different from any other campaign that has ever been run. I am not a party machine, I don’t have the staff and the PR machines and the PR companies that people have.”

“I have asked every journalist to send in the information, the questions so that we could email them back as technical as possible.

"Many of the questions that are asked can be dealt with by me or by some of my team verbally. When somebody sends in questions about dates and technical issues, there’s no way that I would have company accounts here in my office. I’ve got to go to the accountants and they’ve got to go through the files and bring them back."

Mr Gallagher said he had a team of accountants in Dundalk and they had responded to journalists' questions regarding his company Smarthomes. The journalists had come back with 20 or 30 supplementary questions.

“They have to be sent back to the accountants. And so there is no cover up here. I have nothing to hide. In 10 years of running a business in Dundalk, nobody anywhere can raise any concerns about the issues and the propriety and integrity of Smarthomes.”

He said there was nobody who would find anything in his business dealings which was "anything but above board".

Mr Gallagher attempted to limit the damage caused by the issue and by his concession during the debate, in response to an allegation made by Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, that he may have personally collected a donation of €5,000 from Mr Morgan for Fianna Fáil.

Yesterday, Mr Gallagher claimed he had been the victim of a Sinn Féin smear campaign and said he had not received any cheque from Mr Morgan.

He received support from Fianna Fáil, which issued a “clarification” on the 2008 fundraiser in which it said Mr Morgan had issued a €5,000 cheque for the party dated June 26th of that year.