Courtesy of Harry Magee… Here’s some of the significant detail… (This post has been significantly updated with other material since it was first published…)
21.56: Soon after the opening statements, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness begins a direct attack on Gallagher. He says he has been contacted earlier that night by an unnamed man, later identified as fuel merchant Hugh Morgan, who has claimed Gallagher invited him to a €5,000-a-head dinner in Dundalk with then taoiseach Brian Cowen and collected a cheque afterwards. McGuinness’s version is wrong in one aspect at least: the cheque was cashed before the event in 2008. Gallagher denies he collected the cheque.
Here’s what McGuinness actually said in the programme:
“He also told me that after the event that Sean Gallagher called around to his house and took a cheque for €5000. He says its not true and he’s begging for someone to come forward and say that it was true.”
22.27 : The political blogger David Cochrane of Politics.ie tweets: “A SF person has told me they have the person who gave the 5k cheque to Gallagher and are likely to roll him out tomorrow.”
— David Cochrane (@davidcochrane) October 24, 2011
Cochrane had been contacted by a Sinn Féin official a few minutes beforehand and told the man would be produced the next day.
22.34: A tweet is sent out from the @mcGuinness4Pres Twitter account: “The man that Gallagher took the cheque from will be at a press conference tomorrow.”
The man that Gallagher took the cheque from will be at a press conference tomorrow. #aras11
— McGuinness4Pres (@McGuinness4Pres) October 24, 2011
The account was set up on the same day as the official Sinn Féin site and has retweeted much of its content. It has never been established if the content of the tweet was based on Cochrane’s tweet several minutes earlier.
The message is retweeted by other Twitter accounts.
Suzanne Collins, a PR adviser to the Gallagher campaign, spots the tweet and alerts campaign PR director Richard Moore. But he is in an ante-room and has no way of contacting Gallagher in studio.
22.52: After an ad break, Pat Kenny announces a development. He puts it to Gallagher that “Sinn Féin say they are going to produce the man who gave you the cheque for five grand.”
McGuinness goes on the attack. Gallagher’s uses the phrases “no recollection” and “if he gave me an envelope” in a reply that draws some laughter from the audience.
23.02: The official @martin4pres account tweets: “As official campaign Twitter for Martin we need to point out that we have made no comment on the Gallagher FF donation issue.” It is 26 minutes before the end of the programme.
— Martin McGuinness (@Martin4Prez2011) October 24, 2011
23.10 (estimate): At some stage after the Sinn Féin clarification, certainly before the end of the programme, members of The Frontline team become aware of it. According to a reliable source within RTÉ, a note is made of the tweet and there is awareness of it in the gallery but it is not passed on to the presenter Pat Kenny.
The source, who asked not to be identified because of ongoing investigations at the broadcaster, refers to differing recollections of what happened, including some gaps in recollection among key personnel making decisions.
“A note was made [of the second tweet] but it did not travel along the line to studio,” says the source.
Another RTÉ source says the “personnel investigation” now being conducted would be very focused on discovering the exact time the team became aware of the clarification tweet, and why it did not make it to air.
“The story of what happened in the gallery that night is not complete.”
And finally from Harry’s timeline:
Morning Ireland news headlines state: “Sinn Féin promising to produce the individual at the centre of the accusations today.”
10.00: On Today with Pat Kenny, the fact the that the tweet came from a bogus account is mentioned by a contributor. But it does not arise elsewhere, and it is not mentioned by Gallagher, who is interviewed.
Gallagher does not raise the issue when he is interviewed later by RTÉ Radio’s News at One , and by Bryan Dobson on Six-One.
According to Gallagher’s PR director Moore, the tweet became a serious issue later in the week as on Tuesday the team were wholly preoccupied with trying to rally after the Frontline setback.
Senior editorial managers in RTÉ say they became aware there was an issue with the tweet much later in the week, when it had been raised in other media.
At some point in the day, Fianna Fail inform The Journal that McGuinness’s version of the story does not tally with their financial records:
Fianna Fáil said that it received a €5,000 cheque from Morgan Fuels Ireland Ltd, of which Hugh Morgan is the managing director, dated 26 June 2008. It was lodged to the party’s account on 30 June.
A party fundraising event attended by Morgan, who has a conviction for fuel smuggling, was held on 1 July 2008 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dundalk.
Hugh Morgan gives his version of the story (which now tallies with Fianna Fail but differs from the one broadcast by McGuinness) in a statement given to RTE and the Irish Times. He also releases entries from his own diary and the photograph taken with Brian Cowen taken at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dundalk:
On the 27th June Sean Gallagher visited my business premises at Killean, County Armagh. I wrote a cheque for €5,000.00 and gave it to him personally. I still have the stub of the cheque. This payment is declared in my Company accounts and was cleared through my bank on the 1st July 2008.
The ‘bogus’ account seems to disappear in the middle of this conversation on Slugger…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty