Glucksman Ireland House chairman Loretta Brennan-Glucksman hosted a private dinner recently, at which SDLP leader Mark Durkan addressed members of the Irish-American community.
The event took place at the Glucksman Ireland House, the center for Irish studies at NYU, which Glucksman and her husband, Lewis L. Glucksman helped to found in 1991. The center is part of New York University and has not-for-profit status.
“Glucksman Ireland House does not organize political events,” according to a Glucksman Ireland house staff member who spoke to the Echo yesterday.
“While it often rents its rooms to groups, the intention is that the facility would be used for artistic or cultural purposes, not political purposes,” the staffer said.
In recent weeks, the SDLP has stepped up efforts to boost its profile in the U.S. and to establish a fundraising network in the Irish-American community, before the introduction of political reform next year that will prohibit Northern Irish political parties from accepting donations from organizations outside the U.K.
Co-hosting the event was billionaire Irish businessman Dennis O’Brien, who announced a joint pledge with Belfast businessman Paddy McKillen of $750,000 to help the SDLP establish a presence in New York.
“It was not a fundraising event, it was a private event hosted by Loretta Brennan Glucksman and Dennis O’Brien,” said SDLP director of Development, Cllr. Tim Atwood, when contacted by the Echo.
“The aim was to outline the SDLP’s vision for Northern Ireland and to answer questions about the political and economic climate in Northern Ireland. There was no money pledged. Two donors committed money in advance of the event, and their pledges were announced on the night.”
According to Atwood, the SDLP funded the event entirely, and invited guests did not have to pay for tickets. However, controversy has arisen over a letter Brennan Glucksman and O’Brien sent to attendees after the event, in which Glucksman clearly identifies herself as chairman of the Brennan Glucksman Ireland House. The Irish Echo has seen a copy of the letter, which includes the paragraph:
“As you know, the SDLP will be establishing a permanent presence in the United States. We would like you to assist this great development by joining others and becoming a friend of the SDLP. We could benefit enormously from your guidance, counsel and patronage.”
Speaking to the Echo from Ireland, Brennan Glucksman defended her decision to host the gathering and to send a follow-up letter to attendees.
“The need for a moderate party in Northern Irish politics is so important,” according to Brennan Glucksman.
“I feel strongly that there is a need for them [SDLP] if, and hopefully when a government is established in Northern Ireland. We wanted to help the party get on their feet so that, down the line, they can establish their own fundraising network. The follow up letter, we were hoping this would be a springboard for people to get involved with the SDLP and support them.”
Brennan Glucksman is also chairman of the American Ireland Fund, a registered charity in the U.S. that offers grants to not-for-profit organizations in Ireland. The charity will receive ?17,000 ($21,326) annually from the Irish government over the next three years. Vice president Kieran McLoughlin distanced himself from the event when contacted by the Echo.
“Loretta Brennan Glucksman, in a private capacity, agreed to gather some people together to host Mark Durkan,” McLoughlin said.
“We had nothing whatsoever to do with the event. We as an organization are totally non-political. We distribute money equally between nationalist and unionist organizations.”
Although she supports the SDLP’s aims, Glucksman said accusations of political bias within the organizations she chairs that may arise from her allowing the party to use the Glucksman Ireland House facilities was “wrong.”
“One of the great things about Ireland House is that everybody feels it is theirs,” she said.
“People feel welcome there. We’ve hosted Sinn F?in, we’ve had other parties and they have all felt welcome and have expressed that in warm letters of gratitude after the events. This is just another example of a group we felt needed our help in getting to know a wider portion of the Irish-American community. We’ve done that with all sorts of groups,” she said.