Originally published in Volume II, Issue 6 on 15th December 1995 by Observer Reporter.
Details of a secret deal struck between the Literary & Historical and the private promoters who run the Strauss Ball have been uncovered by the University Observer. The deal reopens the debate on private individuals profiting from college events initiated last year when the Commerce & Economics Society sold its name to a private promoter.
The L&H paid former Arts Society auditor Gavin Doherty and his business partners, Donagh Collins and Colm McDonagh, £500 to have its name associated with the ball despite the fact that all the profits from the event this year would still accrue to Mr. Doherty and his partners.
Mr. Doherty was auditor of the Arts Society in 1993 when the Strauss Ball was first run. In 1994, having finished his term as Arts Society auditor, he and his business partners set up the Strauss Ball Society, which allowed them to use society notice boards to promote the event. This year, they contemplated returning the event to the Arts Society before the L&H raised the stakes by offering the trio £500 to have the society’s name associated with the ball.
When the University Observer initially enquired of L&H auditor, Ian Walsh about the deal, he attempted to cover up the fact that the L&H would make no profit out of this year’s ball. When we re-interviewed Mr. Walsh after establishing in a face-to-face interview with his treasurer that the L&H would in fact lose £500 because of its payout to the private promoters, Mr. Walsh excuse his untruth by saying; “I was fudging. I knew yesterday when I spoke to you that the L&H was going to make a loss this year”.
The treasurer, Mr. Alastair McMenamin justified the expenditure by stressing that the L&H would make profits from the social event in future years; “It’s a long-term thing. The Senior Treasurer approves of it. This year was a loss leader.” Other senior figures in the society scene are “flabbergasted” that the L&H didn’t seek a cut of the profits, despite the fact that they were recommending the event to their 1600 members and providing unpaid committee members for postering and ticket sales.
Walsh acknowledges; “If we were doing it now, we would ask for more, but at the time, nobody could tell how much it was worth. I would say L&H involvement did improve ticket sales, but to what extent, I don’t know.”
“We supplied the society name so they could have the means to use the notice boards but also we provided a means of continuing the ball in years to come. That’s what they’re really interested in. We paid out that money like any other sponsor. Those three [Doherty, Collins and McDonagh] were to keep all the profits made. The fact is that we couldn’t have run that ball without them, but they could have run it without us.”
Alastair McMenamin defended the payout by saying; “It’s possible we could have got a better deal but there were other societies who wanted their name associated with it”. Ian Walsh admits; “There’s a whole ethical question of whether you can justify people making money out of a society event and whether the members will be unhappy when Alastair [the treasurer] tells them that their money will go to these people.”
Gavin Doherty says he has no objection to the L&H revealing in its accounts how much he made from the ball; “I’d rather people didn’t concentrate on the sensationalism of a successful event and didn’t nitpick as soon as something went well for a change. I’d rather just concentrate on the positive aspects of a good event.”
Societies Officer, Paddy O’Flynn, said that while he could envisage situations where a society might regard it as being in their interest, arrangements where large amounts of profits accrue to private individuals are “generally undesirable”.