Tuesday 15 September 2015

A Donation Once Again

The following is extracted from a book on Irish political scandals since the foundation of the State, co-written and edited by journalists, Michael Clifford and Shane Coleman:
Neil Blaney stood on the podium, the perspiration glistening on his face. A senior government minister of Blaney's standing addressing his party's annual conference would normally be akin to a victorious general rousing his battle troops. But the January 1969 Fianna Fail Árd Fheis was different. Things were getting hot and heavy. The troops were not just restless, they were almost in revolt. 
Just a couple of months earlier Fianna Fail's second effort to abolish the proportional representation voting system had been resoundingly defeated in a referendum. It was the first time that Fianna Fail had failed to secure 40 per cent of the vote in any electoral contest since it took power in 1932. The result had led to much soul searching and prompted questions about Jack Lynch's leadership of the party. 
Party members laid the blame firmly at the door of Taca, the Fianna Fail fundraising organisation set up a couple of years earlier to tap the business community. Fianna Fail, traditionally the party of the small man, now looked like the representative of big business. Under pressure after the referendum fiasco, Lynch had moved to reform Taca, making it more accessible and transparent. But speaker after speaker at the Árd Fheis was adamant that this was not enough. They wanted Taca gone and they looked set to deliver a bloody nose to the leadership in the process. 
Until, that is, Blaney took the microphone. The Donegal man had little time for Lynch but Fianna Fail needed him. He paused briefly to mop each of the corners of his face with a handkerchief. He stuck his chin and then launched into a stirring defence of Taca, the 'sweat running in thin rivulets down his active jaws' — as the Irish Times reported at the time — as he belted home his point. 
It was almost the 1970s. You needed money to compete with the well-heeled gentlemen of the Labour Party and Fine Gael. The Taca men had been there for the party over many years in every election and by-election. Many of them hadn't a seat in their pants when Fianna Fail had started out. Now Fianna Fail had brought prosperity to the country, they were giving something back. 
Blaney sat down to a standing ovation and thunderous applause. The entire Árd Fheis was in the palm of his hand. In the ensuing vote, only a dozen hands were raised in opposition to the new Taca. It was, however, only a temporary respite for the fund-raising body. Within a year it would be gone. 
Despite the attempts to reform the organisation, Taca was effectively ended by the 1968 referendum result, which was somehow fitting because it had begun with another electoral embarrassment.

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