Galway tent was a ‘great party’, Fianna Fáil fundraiser says

Businessman Des Richardson established Galway Races event during Ahern years

Businessman Des Richardson. File photograph: Eric Luke

Businessman Des Richardson. File photograph: Eric Luke

 

The former Fianna Fáil fundraiser who organised the tent at the Galway Races has said nothing happened at the annual event except a “great party”.

Businessman Des Richardson operated as chief party fundraiser during the years Bertie Ahern was Fianna Fáil leader and established the annual Galway Races event.

Mr Ahern was questioned about the Galway tent during his appearance at the Oireachtas banking inquiry this week and denied it was a way for property developers to gain access to him and Fianna Fáil ministers.

Mr Richardson, who said Mr Ahern performed well at the inquiry, told the The Irish Times the Galway Races fundraiser was his “baby” and the “most successful event in all my years fundraising”.

He also said he sold two tables every year to a “crew” of Fine Gael members.

A Fine Gael spokesman said that, as far as he was aware, Fine Gael members did not purchase tables at the event.

However, he added: “I can’t account for 30,000 members.”

Negative publicity

Brian Cowen decided to stop the Galway Races fundraiser when he became leader in 2008, largely because of the negative publicity it attracted.

“Galway races were my baby,” Mr Richardson said.

“Nothing went on except a great party. What has not been mentioned is that every year I invited six journalists into our tent, fed them and watered them. They were there every day to see exactly what went on.”

Mr Ahern told the banking inquiry the Galway tent was a “social occasion”. “There was no big deal between the connections in the Fianna Fáil tent and the construction industry. It was a social occasion.”

‘Absolute innocence’

The former taoiseach also said Mr Cowen was wrong to do away with it once he became leader, a view supported by Mr Richardson, who said Mr Cowen had regularly attended it himself.

“I was disappointed that Brian Cowen cancelled the event, as Brian was there most years and obviously knew the absolute innocence of it,” he said.

“I know one of Brian’s senior advisers put pressure on him to cancel it but just because the media pressured the party every so often was not a good reason to cancel it.

“We made approximately £150,000 every year with a waiting list of 100 people looking for any cancellations. It seems to be the most talked about fundraising event in the universe even now with mentions at the current inquiry. However, the recession would have ended it anyway. I don’t think it could be replicated again.”