Fianna Fáil pocketed over €500,000 by declaring itself a “charity” to run a fundraising draw, the party’s accounts reveal.
aoiseach Micheál Martin’s party needed the money to pay off debts after spending €1.2m on the general elections.
But changes to gambling laws, brought in by a Fianna Fáil minister, meant only “charities and philanthropic causes” could get a licence to run a lottery.
Fianna Fáil went to court last year and applied as a “charity” to get permission to run its annual raffle. But a second attempt to run the draw this year as a ‘charity’ was thwarted by a legal challenge.
The law was then changed by Fianna Fáil minister Darragh O’Brien this summer to exempt the big political parties from any restrictions. Described as a “good old-style Fianna Fáil stroke”, the change in legislation will allow the big political parties to raise millions between elections.
Financial accounts published by the party today for the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis show the party used the funding from the ‘charity’ draw to lower its debt from spending on the general election.
“In terms of the Party’s fundraising, the Covid-19 crisis continued to impact on our ability to hold our annual National Collection but the Party successfully held our National Superdraw after its cancellation in 2020 and impressively raised €507,436,” the party says.
The 2021 Fianna Fáil National Superdraw was run under a licence granted to the party by declaring itself a ‘charity’ in the District Court, despite legislation and a Supreme Court ruling stating political parties are not charities.
The €507,000 figure is down on the €588,000 raised in 2019 and €537,000 in 2018, but the party’s ability to sell tickets was restricted by the pandemic. Fianna Fáil had to cancel most of its fundraising activities due to Covid-19, such as church gate collections and annual dinner, known as the Cairde Fáil.
Fianna Fáil did run a mini draw raffle in 2020 to help with the cost of the election and this appears to have brought in the bulk of the €186,000 brought in from fundraising that year. Fianna Fáil headquarters spent €1.2m on the general election campaign, according to the accounts. At the end of 2020, the year of the general election, Fianna Fáil’s debt stood at €817,000.
The bulk of the ‘charity’ raffle funding was put towards reducing this debt. The accounts signed by Junior Minister Niall Collins and party treasurer Kevin Fitzgerald say the party will be debt free by the end of this year.
“In 2021, a non-election year, the Party incurred one campaign cost of €35,756 relating to the Dublin Bay South bye-election. This would be normal at this stage of the Dáil cycle for all parties. This allowed the Party to reduce its debt level further to €361,582 and we expect to fully clear our debt by the end of 2022. In spite of the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has presented, this is the lowest debt position the Party has had at this stage of the Dáil cycle over the last 30 years and is due largely to the strong financial foundations put in place by the Party in previous years,” the accounts say.
A last-minute change to new legislation, supposedly reforming the political system, will allow the political parties to go back to running their raffles without the charity restrictions. The law brought in by Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien will mean parties can indeed apply to the District Court for a lottery licence. There is no mention of a limit on the amount of money that can be raised. Showing the scale of the fundraising, the prize money is capped at €360,0000.
The Government move followed Fianna Fáil being forced to call off its planned 2022 raffle, intended to raise another €500,000, after declaring itself a “charity” to get a licence. A licence granted to Fianna Fáil was legally challenged last Christmas with Taoiseach Micheál Martin named in the proceedings.