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Michelle O'Neill: Another financial scandal, another failure by the DUP to own up about it

By Michelle O'Neill MLA

In any other place, the latest allegations surrounding the 'dark money' - which the DUP received to support the Brexit campaign - would have provoked a media frenzy.

In the lead up to the Brexit referendum, the DUP leadership were well aware of the disaster Brexit would be for our economy, our people, our public services and the Good Friday and other agreements.

Yet they signed up to the Leave campaign and accepted a donation of £425,622 from a previously unheard of group, the Constitutional Research Council.

The Constitutional Research Council (CRC) is an organisation with no legal status, membership list, public presence or visible signs of income. This information was dragged out of the DUP on the back of a series of refusals to answer where the money came from.

They are obliged to conduct due diligence on any donation to ensure they are consistent with electoral law.

The DUP has said this was done and they are aware of who funds the Constitutional Research Council, but they are refusing to disclose this information.

We are again seeing the same old approach by the DUP to scandals such as the Renewable Heat Incentive, Nama and Red Sky. The approach of deny, frustrate and refuse to answer questions.

The central new claim is that the man who channelled £425,622 to the party was connected to a very senior and powerful member of the Saudi royal family, who also happens to have been a former director of the Saudi intelligence agency.

So the obvious question is whether Prince Nawwaf was the source of the new-found wealth for both the CRC and the DUP.

It is a pertinent question because to receive money from a foreign government is illegal. To receive money from an unknown donor is illegal.

These allegations cannot go unanswered by the DUP.

Sinn Fein's patience was exhausted by the DUP's actions, and that is why Martin McGuinness called time on the party's involvement in the institutions until such times as public confidence and trust can be restored.

But in order to restore confidence, Arlene Foster needs to deal with these issues.

She needs to answer the questions around the Brexit dark money and all the other scandals that have blighted her party.

She needs to demonstrate that the DUP is capable of behaving with integrity in government and treating people with equality and respect.

However, it seems that Arlene Foster would rather talk about anything but.

She has this week expressed her "concerns" about the rise in the number of people from nationalist areas who are quite legitimately and lawfully applying for postal and proxy votes.

No mention of the 60,000 people who were unfairly and undemocratically removed from the electoral register or the thousands who were turned away from the polls at the Assembly election.

And certainly no mention of the Brexit dark money.

Whatever the full facts of the Saudi connection, it's clear that the dark money affair has cast yet another shadow over the DUP.

But it may also cast new light on why they supported Brexit in the first place.

Brexit will be a disaster for the north of Ireland. For our economy, for our agri-food industry and for communities and commerce on both sides of the border.

Arlene Foster knew this. Her party knew this. So why on earth would they campaign for it?

In total, her party received £425,622 from the CRC in support of the Brexit cause.

The DUP got the money.

The rest of us pay the price.

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