By Ray O’Hanlon
Friends of Sinn Féin has strongly denied reports in three newspapers that one of the fund-raising group’s key U.S. supporters, businessman Chuck Feeney, discontinued his financial aid to the Sinn Féin office in Washington, D.C., due to concern over how the money was spent.
Feeney himself told the Echo this week that his support for the office, which amounted to $20,000 a month, was never open-ended.
FOSF, in a statement, said that articles published in the three papers falsely claimed that Feeney stopped funding the office "because of a belief that his funds were being spent inappropriately."
This was "totally untrue," the statement, signed by FOSF’s president, Larry Downes, said.
The statement named the Sunday Times of London, the Sunday Tribune of Dublin and the Irish Echo.
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The Sunday Times, it said, had named no sources when it first printed the story, had failed to mention that Friends of Sinn Féin had denied the story, and had also failed to report that Feeney had always provided "only" for a three-year period of funding, spring 1995-98, which he had honored.
"Sinn Féin has expressed its thanks and appreciation for Mr. Feeney’s support and Mr. Feeney remains in close, cooperative contact with Sinn Féin," the statement said.
The statement then referred to a subsequent report in the Sunday Tribune that stated that Feeney had cut his funding because he was angered at the manner in which his money was being spent in Washington. The report said that Feeney’s commitment had not been for three years, but rather $1.25 million over five years and had been cut prematurely short.
"The Tribune reported similar accusations, again without identifying any sources. The story also claimed that a salary was paid above that ‘sanctioned’ by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is absolute nonsense as the DOJ does not approve or disapprove such matters," the FOSF statement said in its rebuttal.
The writer of the Tribune report, Ed Moloney, when contacted by the Echo, said he stood by his story and was fully confident in his sources.
"The Irish Echo," the FOSF statement continued, "was next in line using a bold headline that announced the false charges and followed with ‘paper says,’ as if that rectified its contribution to the blatant attempt to smear. The Echo regurgitated the Tribune story, again without any sources."
The Echo, however, has been informed by several normally reliable sources, independent of the Tribune’s, that critical aspects of the Tribune report are substantive.
The FOSF statement, however, is adamant with regard to the limited nature of Mr. Feeney’s commitment: "The fact, as reflected in a 1995 Financial audit of FOSF, is that Mr. Feeney had always committed himself to a limited three-year funding period. It is further fact that the first Sinn Féin representative to the U.S. has been assigned to D.C. for a limited time period, which was honorably served, and returned to head Sinn Féin’s International desk."
Along with the statement, FOSF released a page from its financial records described as "notes to financial statements from the date of inception, Nov. 25, 1994 through June 30, 1995."
Under the heading "Major Donor," the page stated: "The Organization has received a three-year oral commitment from a single donor to provide $20,000 per month for use in defraying the costs of operating the Washington, D.C., office."
Feeney told the Echo this week that details of his support for the Washington office had been worked out in advance.
"It had a timeframe to it and was for the purpose of getting the operation up and going," he said.
Feeney confirmed that his relations with Friends of Sinn Féin remained good and as described in the FOSF statement.
The statement concluded that the D.C. office, which had been instrumental in maintaining U.S. support for the Irish peace process, was "alive and well" under the new leadership of Rita O’Hare.
"The funding of the office is solid, thanks to the thousands of Sinn Féin supporters who have funded and continue to fund Sinn Féin’s peace with justice strategy by donating to FOSF," the FOSF statement said.
"Undoubtedly, there will be further efforts to smear Sinn Féin. The agenda here is clear; it is to undermine and subvert Sinn Féin’s efforts. We only ask our supporters to work with us a for a free, just and United Ireland."
Meanwhile, money raised by Gerry Adams during his recent tour of the U.S. is to be put to use in opening the party’s first office in London, the Irish Times has reported.