Fianna Fáil votes against ending church gate collection

Party’s success in 2016 general election increased State funding to €5.3 million

Constituencies, all outside Dublin, raised €180,000 in the church gate national collection last year

Constituencies, all outside Dublin, raised €180,000 in the church gate national collection last year

 

There is a “lot of resistance” in rural Fianna Fáil constituencies to ending the traditional national church gate fundraising collection, the party’s ardfheis has heard.

The collection remained a “very strong income stream where it is organised well”, party finance director David Burke told delegates at a session on Fianna Fáil’s accounts for 2016.

Constituencies, all outside Dublin, raised €180,000 in the church gate national collection last year, a similar level to 2015, mainly in rural areas.

Over the years the practice has proved controversial and has been criticised by churchgoers and Catholic Church authorities.

But at the weekend delegates defeated, without debate, a Westmeath motion that the ard comhairle (national executive) should “review the church gate collections and recommend alternative methods of fundraising”.

Delegates were told that the party is restructuring how it fundraised, particularly in Dublin, where the tradition is weak.

Resistance

But there are no plans to move away from the practice. In constituencies “that derive an awful lot of income from it, there is a lot of resistance [to stopping]. There are discussions around it but it is still a very strong income stream where it’s organised well,” the finance director said. Constituencies receive 40 per cent of the collection and that helps fund the local organisation including elections.

The other main fundraising area, the national draw known as the “superdraw”, raised €520,000 last year, a rise of almost €140,000 over 2015 revenues of €378,000.

“The draw over five years raised €2.6 million. Each ticket is €50 and that’s how we service the debt and run elections,” Mr Burke said.

Revenue from membership subscriptions rose by 41 per cent to €383,000 from €273,000 in 2015. Fianna Fáil currently has approximately 20,000 members.

The accounts show the party’s debt at under €1 million (€943,129) last year down from €1.5 million in 2015 with the expectation of a further reduction for 2017.

Fianna Fáil’s overall income rose by 28 per cent or €268,508 in 2016 to €1.23 million.

The party received total State funding of €5.3 million, up from €3.98 million the previous year because of its success at the general election, more than doubling the number of TDs from 20 to 44 and also increasing its Seanad representation to 14.

Staffing allowance

There are three sources of State funding – the parliamentary activities account, formerly the leader’s allowance; funding through the Electoral Acts; and finance from the Houses of Oireachtas Commission for Leinster House.

The parliamentary activities account is based on the number of TDs and Senators. Funding under the Electoral Acts is based on the first preference vote of qualifying parties in general elections. The House of Oireachtas staffing allowance is based on the number of TDs and Senators and provided by the Houses of Oireachtas.

State funding cannot be used for elections, referendums or servicing debt.

Following a change in the law political parties are required to put their annual financial statement in the public domain and Fianna Fáil said it “pro-actively” published its accounts in the ardfheis clár or programme ahead of its publication in due course by the Standards in Public Office commission.

The finance director told delegates: “We welcome the fact that it brings transparency to finances and we’ve been very much in line with all regulation.”

Party honorary treasurer Mary Devine O’Callaghan paid tribute to fellow honorary treasurer and Limerick County TD Niall Collins whose constituency topped the party’s fundraising league for both the national collection and the annual super draw.

She said the “key challenge for our finances is to maintain our fundraising ability and increasing it where possible”. Limerick county raised almost €20,000 in its church gate collection and €31,150 in the super draw.