Storm envelops favourite in Irish presidential race

Row over €5,000 Fianna Fail donation may dash businessman's chances of victory in today's vote

The result of today's Irish presidential election could hinge on one word – "envelope" – that has the potential to dash the hopes of the contest favourite.

A dynamic entrepreneur, Sean Gallagher, looked to be striding purposefully towards victory following a campaign that emphasised his business expertise and personal independence. But in the past few days he has been forced to concede in a television debate that an envelope containing a cheque for €5,000 (£4,300) may have changed hands as he solicited donations for Fianna Fail, Ireland's most toxic political party.

At a stroke his independent image became tarnished by association with the party whose mixture of incompetence and sleaze are widely regarded as having wrecked the economy.

The situation has not been helped by the fact the businessman involved, Hugh Morgan, was some years ago convicted of tax evasion and smuggling fuel across the Irish border.

Mr Morgan issued a statement confirming he gave a cheque to Mr Gallagher, who had invited him to a Fianna Fail fundraiser. He said: "In return for the €5,000 donation I was promised a private audience with the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and I would get a photograph taken with him."

Mr Gallagher claims he has been the victim of a smear campaign, declaring: "This was a political assassination attempt by Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein. The person in question, Hugh Morgan, is a convicted criminal and he loaded the gun while Martin McGuinness pulled the trigger."

Mr Gallagher's spokesman previously insisted that "at no point did he actively solicit any donations". He has since been accused of changing his story.

Fianna Fail is indelibly identified with "the politics of the brown envelope", a phrase signifying the purchase of favouritism through donations.

When Mr Gallagher uttered the word during a television debate he released a flood of memories of the bad old days. He had previously admitted some Fianna Fail connections but steadfastly downplayed them and criticised the party's economic record.

In polls, he has of late been miles ahead of his nearest opponent, Michael D Higgins of the Irish Labour party.

Mr Gallagher, who experienced a stellar rise earlier in the campaign, is now undergoing a meteoric plunge.

The question is whether the revelations, so late in a long and volatile campaign, will deny him victory. Dublin bookies make Mr Higgins favourite.

Most of the damage to Mr Gallagher's standing came from Sinn Fein's Mr McGuinness, who is third favourite. He opened his campaign strongly but has since faded amid a barrage of criticism of his past record in the IRA.

His repeated assertions that he left the violent organisation in the mid-1970s have not been taken seriously.

Mr Gallagher, whose campaign was initially confident and composed, struggled on TV to respond to the Sinn Fein leader's allegation that he collected the cheque for Fianna Fail. He later said he had been "shell-shocked" by the charge.

Meanwhile, Mr McGuinness looks set to finish third – something of an achievement for a party that until recently was only on the fringes of the Republic's political mainstream.

This means that in this election at least it has displaced Fianna Fail, once the Republic's largest party, whose standing is so low it decided against contesting the election at all.

But Sinn Fein probably had even higher ambitions when it gave Mr McGuinness a temporary transfer from northern politics and pitched him into a battle in which some speculated he had an outside chance of victory. Fine Gael, the largest party in the ruling Dublin coalition, has had a dismal showing, its candidate Gay Mitchell languishing towards the bottom of opinion polls. He is currently an 80-1 outsider.

While the presidency has no executive powers, the two women who have held the post over the last two decades, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, have greatly expanded its profile and symbolic role.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent