Republic of Ireland presidential hopeful Sean Gallagher endured a huge setback during a live TV debate over allegations he collected a €5,000 cheque in an envelope from a fuel smuggler.
In a major blow to his credibility, Mr Gallagher admitted he may have collected a €5,000 cheque from a businessman for a Fianna Fail fundraiser.
The Irish Independent revealed last week Mr Gallagher attended and helped organise the corporate fundraiser for former Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Mr Gallagher was last night rattled by an accusation from Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, who said he had collected a cheque from the donor for a Fianna Fail corporate fundraiser in 2008.
On the RTE 'Frontline' debate, Mr Gallagher said he had "no recollection of getting a cheque". But Mr McGuinness said Mr Gallagher personally delivered a photograph to a donor and collected a cheque from him for €5,000.
When he came under intense pressure, his version of events began to change. "I may well have delivered a photograph. If he gave me a cheque, it was made out to Fianna Fail headquarters," he said.
Members of the audience in RTE began laughing at his answer.
Mr Gallagher described the businessman concerned as a "fuel smuggler" who had been investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau and said he had Sinn Fein connections.
Yet he also admitted he made contact with the businessman about the fundraiser.
Mr Gallagher said he did not know of the businessman's past at the time.
But the latest revelation means the closing days of Mr Gallagher's campaign will be dominated by questions over his role in the fundraiser.
Sinn Fein is threatening to make the businessman's name public today.
Mr Gallagher invited donors to attend the secret Fianna Fail fundraiser in July 2008 -- just a day before disastrous tax figures showed the downturn was well under way.
The €5,000-a-head fundraiser took place on July 1, 2008 in the four-star Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dundalk, Co Louth.
The corporate donations made by the businessmen in attendance did not have to be made public by Fianna Fail because they were for €100, under the legal threshold for declaration.
Mr Gallagher continues to claim he only spoke to a small number of local businessmen at the time for a fundraiser organised by Fianna Fail.
Fianna Fail did not have to declare the donations taken at the event.
Under the law, a party has to declare a donation only if it exceeds €5,078.95, meaning it can take as many sums as it likes below that threshold and not reveal them.
For the year of 2008, Fianna Fail only declared €11,800 worth of corporate donations.
Playing down his role, Mr Gallagher has said he had been responding to a request by Fianna Fail headquarters. And he said he had not asked any of the guests for money.
"No I didn't. I was asked if I would let local business people know that the event was on, which I did. But I collected no money," he said.
Mr Gallagher said last week he was a "grassroots member" at the time and had not given any personal donation at the fundraising event.
"And even of those who turned up, I have no idea whether they made a donation or not. That would be solely a matter for Fianna Fail," the candidate said.
Source Irish Independent