FF deputy involved in Ansbacher debacle

Denis Foley: May 14th, 1934-Oct 26th, 2013

Denis Foley and Charles Haughey step together at the opening of the Dingle Way in tralee ion 1988.

Denis Foley and Charles Haughey step together at the opening of the Dingle Way in tralee ion 1988.


Denis Foley, who died recently aged 79, was a successful businessman who served as a Fianna Fáil backbencher and senator. He resigned from the party when it was revealed he held an offshore Ansbacher account to avoid tax.

Reared in modest circumstances in Tralee, Co Kerry, he became active in the party in the 1950s when he worked in the hardware business. He later became a rate collector with Tralee urban council.

Foley, anxious to escape from postwar austerity in the economic upswing of the 1960s, had more affinity with Seán Lemass’s Fianna Fáil than Eamon de Valera’s. When he married Hannah O’Halloran, they settled in a substantial property in Staughton’s Row, Tralee, which became not only the family home but a thriving guesthouse. Over the years, he would acquire more property.

Lemass, as taoiseach, opened the Mount Brandon Hotel, near Foley’s home, in the early 1960s. A major shareholder was wealthy Kerry-born businessman John Byrne, who died some days after Foley.

Byrne had a close association with Fianna Fáil and asked Foley to manage the modern ballroom attached to the hotel, which was in the course of replacing the small country dancehalls of the time. It was the era of the showbands and the ballroom became hugely successful. Business was done at the time largely on a cash basis.

The hotel had a whiff of glamour in the 1960s and American actor Jayne Mansfield was hired to appear in cabaret in the ballroom in 1967. Local Catholic clergy objected to Mansfield because she had boasted that her New York critics said she sold sex better than any other performer in the world. Sermons denouncing the cabaret act were preached at Sunday Masses.

The event was cancelled by the hotel’s management, Mansfield claiming she had forgotten her music notes. Foley kept a low profile during the controversy.

By then he had set his eyes on a Dáil seat, and the long battle for electoral supremacy with sitting Fianna Fáil TD Tom McEllistrim in the Kerry North constituency began.

The rivalry between the two men and their supporters was intense. Although McEllistrim was a strong supporter of party leader Charles Haughey, when he came to power, and served under him as a minister of State, it was not always clear where Foley’s loyalties lay.

Foley finally made it to the Dáil in 1981 and remained in the Oireachtas, serving one term in the Seanad, until 2002.

Although initially denying it to the media, including to Vincent Browne and Ursula Halligan in Magill magazine, it finally emerged in 2000 that he held an Ansbacher account. He told the Moriarty tribunal that he was approached by the accountant Des Traynor, who managed Haughey’s finances, in the Brandon hotel in the mid-1970s and asked if he wished to invest in funds for which he could get a good return.

In 1979 or so, Foley decided to invest £50,000, which he gave directly to Traynor. He said that following Traynor’s death in 1994 he became concerned about his investment and indicated that he wanted to make a withdrawal.

In early September 1995, Foley met Padraig Collery, formerly of Guinness and Mahon bank, in a Dublin hotel and was given £50,000 in cash.

As well as leaving the party, he resigned as vice-chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, where he had been one of those involved in investigating tax evasion. He was suspended from the Dáil for 14 working days on full pay for breaching the Ethics in Public Office Act.

A devout Catholic, non-smoker and non-drinker, Foley was anti-divorce and anti-abortion and took very strong stances on both issues.

He is survived by his wife Hannah, his son Billy, and daughters Margaret, Norma and Denise.