In a matter of years the Republican fund-raising movement in the US has transformed itself from a shadowy, spontaneous affair that collected funds in bars in New York, Boston and Chicago, into a slick and professional effort that annually gathers $1m.
In 1994, fundraising for Sinn Fein, the Provisional IRA's politcal wing, was approved under the administration of Bill Clinton. This followed the IRA's initial ceasefire which enabled the US State Department to "de-designate" it.
Accounts released by Sinn Fein offices in the US suggest that, since then, the organisation has raised around $5m, annually collecting $1m in a fund-raising drive that is boosted by websites, newsletters and the movement's legitimacy on Capitol Hill. At one event alone – held in New York last year and addressed by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams – more than $270,000 was raised, equal to the total raised in the US for Sinn Fein in the previous six months.
The fundraising effort has long tapped into the groundswell of sympathy for the Republican movement that exists among some of the 40 million or more Americans who claim Irish descent. It was this community to which the fundraisers turned in the quarter century or so prior to the 1994 IRA ceasefire.
Recently, the fund-raising effort has been split. One of the most vociferous groups now is the Irish Freedom Committee, which describes Sinn Fein supporters of the peace process as "ex-Republicans". It claims to be taking over the role once played by the Irish Northern Aid Committee – or Noraid – while the former Noraid leader, Martin Galvin, now counts himself among what he calls the growing ranks of dissidents against the Good Friday agreement.
Noraid, a US organisation allied to Sinn Fein, says on its website that it "formed in 1970 to alleviate the suffering of the dependents of Irish Political Prisoners. Today the families of political prisoners rely on our all-volunteer fundraising."
It adds: "We are a non-profit American organisation that provides support for the Irish republican movment through politcal action and education outreach, while providing financial assistance to the families of those imprisoned or killed for their political beliefs."Reuse content