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Sinn Féin accused of 'pitching Galway tent' after getting $400k from US-based donors

TheJournal.ie has obtained the latest donation statement from the party’s US fundraising branch (although that cash can’t be spent in Ireland).

Updated 6.40pm

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, and Gerry Kelly MLA. Source: PA WIRE

THE AMERICAN FUNDRAISING branch of Sinn Féin received close to $400,000 in donations from US-based supporters over the last 12 months, TheJournal.ie can reveal.

New US Justice Department figures, obtained by this website, show that between 1 May 2014 and 30 April 2015, the New York-based “Friends of Sinn Féin” took in $397,082 (€355,565) in donations.

That’s down from $418,271 in the previous year.

The group’s expenditure over the last 12 months was $433,969.

The party has insisted that the majority of the money stays in the United States to fund its lobbying of US politicians in furthering the Northern Ireland peace process.

Strict rules around party funding in the Republic of Ireland mean that money raised abroad doesn’t find its way into Sinn Féin’s accounts here.

Some of the funds, however, can legally be spent in Northern Ireland.

Labour TD Derek Nolan today accused Sinn Féin of ‘pitching a Galway tent in New York’ referring to the infamous fundraising tent that Fianna Fáil had at the Galway Races.

Labour Party Annual Conferences day 1 Derek Nolan Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

“Remember the outcry from Sinn Fein at builders and developers swanning around the exclusive Fianna Fail tent at the Galway races? Remember the outrage at luxurious fundraising events costing hundreds and thousands euro at five star hotels, totally unaffordable for the average person?” the Galway-West TD said.

Imagine how Sinn Fein would have decried a €15,000 donation to a political party from a construction conglomerate or wealthy former bankers? Sinn Fein’s fundraising practices are simply not compatible with the rhetoric and phoney imagery they like to project.

Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), groups acting or fundraising on behalf of foreign-based organisations are required to file statements with the US government twice a year.

In the six months from May to November 2014, Friends of Sinn Féin (FOSF) took in $6,971, but recorded $390,111 from November 2014 until 30 April 2015.

The vast bulk of that is understood to have been raised at FOSF’s $500/plate annual dinner at the Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan, last November.

The event, attended by party president Gerry Adams and TD Pearse Doherty, raised eyebrows at home, with Tánaiste Joan Burton pointing out in the Dáil that the cost of a ticket was more than what the average family would pay in water charges.

The vast majority of Sinn Féin’s US individual and business donors come from the New York region, but in total, 14 American states – from Ohio to Alabama – are represented, along with the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Sinn Fein delegation meet Taoiseach Source: PA WIRE

The biggest single contributer to the group in the last year was United Structural Works, a steel fabricator in Rockland County, New York, which gave $20,000.

Its president, Cormach Murrihy, originally from Ratoath, Co Meath, told TheJournal.ie the donation was “purely for personal reasons.”

It’s down to the wonderful work [Sinn Féin] is doing, north and south of the border. It’s really an inspiring organisation, and luckily I’m in a position [to contribute].

The group’s latest statement also shows that 13 Sinn Féin representatives and advisers made 33 visits to nine different cities, primarily New York and Washington DC, but also including Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston, among others.

Gerry Adams visited New York for the November gala, and again over the St Patrick’s Day period, when he also took a trip to DC.

Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald attended events in New Orleans in March, while TDs Pearse Doherty and Peadar Tóibín went to New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Chicago.

Just last week, the party’s former Westminster MP Conor Murphy was briefing US politicians on the current political crisis over welfare reforms in the North.

The party maintains this is what the money raised in the US pays for. A well-placed source explained:

The vast majority of Friends of Sinn Féin money stays in the States. It pays for the lobbying operation and pays for people to go and lobby. It’s not money coming back into the party.

In response to questions from TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for Sinn Féin said all fundraising and spending by FOSF was “fully transparent and compliant with all US laws and regulations.”

Funds raised by FOSF are used in the USA to promote the cause of Irish Unity and the peace process.
For example, [through] speaking events, maintaining an office in New York, political briefing, etc…

TheJournal.ie requested comment from Friends of Sinn Féin, but did not receive a response.

You can read the full list of donors to Friends of Sinn Féin, as well as US trips by party representatives, here.

- with reporting by Hugh O’Connell 

Originally published 6.34am

Read: Here’s what we know about Sinn Féin’s $500-a-plate New York dinner>

Read: Sinn Féin says the money it got from Martin Sheen and others ‘is not a secret’>

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Dan MacGuill

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