Cowen abandons Fianna Fáil tent at Galway Races


TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen has decided to abandon the party's controversial Galway Races fundraiser, an annual gathering of some of the country's richest property developers and building firm owners.

The news was delivered to the Fianna Fáil national executive in Leinster House last night by Mr Cowen, who announced that he intended to order a full review of the party's organisation and fundraising.

For 15 years, the Galway tent has been one of the party's most high- profile fundraisers, though in recent years it has brought much negative publicity - particularly as allegations of payments to politicians mounted.

Mr Cowen has so far decided only to cancel the tent for this year, but it is unlikely to return once the organisation review by the party's general secretary Seán Dorgan is completed. The Taoiseach's edict will be seen as an important change of tone, with Mr Cowen intent on emphasising a different style to his predecessor Bertie Ahern.

The event, which was a favourite for Fianna Fáil Ministers who flock to Ballybrit, is understood to have raised €160,000 a year for the party's coffers at its height.

Questioned about the decision last night, a Fianna Fáil spokesman said the Dorgan review would cover recruitment, fundraising and organisation, and no deadline has been set down. The decision marks a significant change in attitude to the event, which was attended by Mr Ahern religiously during his time as leader. Despite much evidence to the contrary, Mr Ahern consistently rejected calls from the Opposition to end the fundraiser, insisting that the majority of those who attended were rank-and-file party members.

In the past, the tent was the home during Galway race week for many of the best-known developers, including Michael Bailey, who made a €25 million settlement with the Revenue Commissioners after his tribunal appearances in Dublin Castle.

However, the number of serious high-fliers began to decline in recent years. Many were reluctant to be the subject of media gossip and also reluctant to declare their political links too openly.

The event was run by Des Richardson, one of Mr Ahern's closest friends, who appeared before the Mahon tribunal this week to face questions about the purchase of Mr Ahern's St Luke's constituency office. Mr Cowen's decision will also be seen as marking the declining influence of figures such as Mr Richardson, who will no longer have the same access to the heart of the party.