DUP call to look at ‘loophole’ of foreign party donations

Sinn Fein said it backed 'full disclosure, openness and transparency'
Sinn Fein said it backed 'full disclosure, openness and transparency'

The DUP is attempting to pile pressure on Sinn Fein over the issue of overseas money being donated by party backers.

Its fresh call to curb the flow of foreign cash comes shortly after the law was changed, requiring major donors to Northern Irish parties to be publicly named.

A DUP statement calls for “a light to be shone” now on the issue of foreign money specifically.

Its call to look into the flow of cash essentially targets North American donations to Sinn Fein.

It said there were concerns about “such funds unfairly influencing politics in Northern Ireland”, adding it is time to shut the “loophole” allowing foreign-raised funds to be spent in the Province.

In response to the DUP, Sinn Fein said: “This is yet more distraction politics from the DUP who would rather talk about anything other than the ‘dark money’ they received for supporting Brexit or any of the other financial scandals they have been embroiled in from Nama, to Red Sky and RHI.”

It added that Sinn Fein backs “full disclosure, openness and transparency” on donations.

THE LAW IN NI, GB and ROI:

The law on foreign donations is complex.

But in short it says Northern Ireland-registered parties can receive donations of £500-plus from Irish sources, but Great Britain-registered ones cannot.

Any such donation of £500-plus must come from an Irish citizen or Irish-registered organisation.

This means for example that wealthy overseas businessmen with Irish citizenship can give major sums to Northern Ireland-registered parties.

And under Irish law, even someone who has a single great-grandparent born anywhere on the island of Ireland can qualify for citizenship.

As far as donation rules in the Republic go, no donations whatsoever can be accepted from people residing outside the island of Ireland unless they are Irish citizens (and in the case of money being donated by an organisation, rather than an individual, they must have an office on the island “from which at least one of its principal activities is directed”).

DONORS, DINNERS and DANCING:

The sums handled by Sinn Fein support groups can be substantial.

New York-based Friends of Sinn Fein group regularly raises six-figure’s-worth of funds annually, much of it in the form of large donations from businesspeople and firms.

Its statement to the US Department of Justice says that from November 2016 to May 2017, it received close to $396,000, and spent almost $294,000 in the same period, including just under $20,000 under the category ‘Sinn Fein expenses – Northern Ireland’.

Its most recent six-month period of US fundraising activities isdocumented here.

A lot of fundraising activity however does not come from large single donations from individuals and firms, but from ticketed events.

Money raised this way does not need to be checked to see if it comes from Irish sources; in other words, if someone buys a $50 ticket for a dinner in Boston, they do not need to be Irish, and the accumulated money from this event could be spent in Northern Ireland.

The same applies in the UK; theoretically, the Lib Dems could hold a fundraising dinner in Montreal at $50 per ticket without checking who is buying the tickets, because they do not pass the £500 threshold.

Again, this cash could be used to support the party in the UK.

Examples of upcoming events include an Easter Rising commemoration on March 31 run by Friends of Sinn Fein in Canada, involving a dinner addressed by ex-Belfast Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile at a $60 per guest.

It had already staged a St Patrick’s Day concert by traditional folk act the Wolfe Tones, also in Toronto, at $45 per ticket.