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Heat on DUP to say who funded its Brexit ad drive

By Noel McAdam

An English organisation made donations to the DUP to mount a UK-wide campaign in favour of Brexit, leader Arlene Foster has revealed.

But the party is coming under increasing pressure to name the organisation and reveal the amount involved - amid speculation it could be more than £250,000.

The DUP yesterday insisted it had complied with all rules on donations, and that returns will be published by the Electoral Commission in due course.

The party said in a statement: "The EU referendum was a national campaign and the DUP was involved in campaigning for a Leave vote right across the UK.

"This included members speaking at events in Great Britain, and through advertising. All advertising was paid for out of party funds. All eligible donations are registered with the Electoral Commission in the required manner.

"The DUP registered as a permitted participant in the referendum campaign. Other political parties, including from Northern Ireland, also registered as participants in the campaign.

"All spending by the DUP was within the allocated spending cap for permitted participants and was entirely separate from the official Vote Leave Campaign."

It added: "All the necessary returns for the referendum campaign have been submitted to the Electoral Commission and will be published by the commission in due course."

The statement came after Mrs Foster confirmed the DUP had registered as one of the parties campaigning to leave the EU "and we received donations". "Those donations have been given to the Electoral Commission and will be very clear for everyone to see," she said.

Mrs Foster - a candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone - revealed: "They are from an organisation in England that wants to see the Union kept... this was a national question asked on a national basis."

But Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd said the DUP should tell the electorate who funded its Brexit advertising campaign. "The enormous amount of money that the DUP spent on its pro-Brexit campaign is far in excess of its normal election spending.

"The consequences of the Brexit decision are so profound that the public are entitled to know who was funding the DUP's Brexit campaign.

"The DUP's mishandling of the RHI scandal damaged public confidence in the political institutions.

"There is an onus on the DUP to tell the public who funded its extravagant Brexit advertising campaign."

Meanwhile, Mrs Foster last night called for a strong team of DUP negotiators to be returned at the Assembly election next month.

In a speech to DUP members in Newry and Armagh, she said it was "critical that unionism enters these negotiations from a position of strength".

"It is dangerous to advocate supporting candidates who are pro-united Ireland above preferences for fellow unionists. The greater the number of nationalist MLAs elected, the stronger the push will be for a border poll," she warned.

"With the greatest respect to Mike (Nesbitt) and Colum (Eastwood), neither of their parties are even fielding enough candidates to win the election. And neither have any record of delivering anything. The truth is a vote for Mike means you will get Mike and Sinn Fein, not Mike and the SDLP. Sinn Fein would love to be negotiating with Mike Nesbitt. Even his own supporters fear that outcome. That is why it is so important that the DUP wins a strong mandate to ensure that the government do not give in to Sinn Fein's demands."

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