Belfast Telegraph

Eastwood: Public 'needs to know whole story behind DUP's £425k Brexit cash'

By Noel McAdam

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have stepped up attacks on the DUP over a £425,000 donation that bankrolled the party's pro-Brexit advertising campaign.

Sinn Fein claimed people were "being kept in the dark" over the relatively unknown business group behind the donation, the Constitutional Research Council (CRC).

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said voters deserved to know why the organisation funnelled money through the DUP to fund campaign adverts outside Northern Ireland.

The attacks came after the DUP challenged other parties to disclose their big donors after revealing it had received £425,600 from the CRC.

Just days before people go to the polls, the row over donations to Northern Ireland's political parties - and who makes them - is intensifying.

Sinn Fein argued that the DUP opposed ending the current practice of keeping the identity of donors secret, and was also against lowering the threshold for reporting donations to £500.

The party's John O'Dowd said: "The public are entitled to know exactly who is involved in this group, where the money came from and whether or not the DUP are still being bankrolled by this mystery organisation.

"It is up to the DUP to make this information known to the public in the interests of transparency and integrity before we go to the polls on Thursday so that voters can make an informed choice."

His party said: "In the Sinn Fein submission to the review into legislation governing donations, we called for an end to the practice of keeping the identity of donors secret and that the threshold for reporting donations be lowered to £500.

"The DUP was one of the local political parties who opposed this proposal."

The DUP responded: "The DUP supports a change in the law on political donations so that Northern Ireland matches the rest of the UK.

"That includes not just transparency on donations, but a bar on foreign donations.

"If Sinn Fein have such a commitment to transparency of donations they will now disclose donations received using the loophole of bringing money in from the Irish Republic.

"They could start with an explanation of how the nearly £10m raised by US-based Friends of Sinn Fein has been spent."

Mr Eastwood insisted serious questions remained over the origin, make-up and agenda of the obscure CRC. "Brexit is the biggest economic, social and constitutional threat to this island since partition," he said.

"People here realised that and voted to remain in Europe. They deserve to know why this secretive organisation funnelled money through the DUP to fund campaign adverts outside of Northern Ireland.

"They deserve to know if political donation laws were exploited to keep the activity of the Constitutional Research Council secret.

"The collapse of the Executive underlines the urgent need for transparency in government here.

"The DUP must provide that transparency immediately."

Meanwhile, the DUP has branded Sinn Fein's demands for equality for the Irish language a "massive deception", claiming that more than £171m in public funding has been spent on it over five years. Deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: "The truth is that the Irish language is receiving vast sums of public money, far more than any other cultural identity in Northern Ireland.

"Their campaign for language equality is a huge deception, based on telling lies so often that they are accepted as facts."

The North Belfast MP said that since 2011, a total of £88.4m had been spent on the running costs of Irish-medium schools.

A further £30.9m had been spent for capital costs, along with £15m for the Irish Language Broadcast Fund and £11.9m on community grants for Irish Language projects.

"A good starting point would be an audit to establish exactly how much funding different cultural identities are receiving and then we can have a meaningful discussion about the equitable distribution of resources," Mr Dodds added.

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