Nelson McCausland: If funding of Left causes in NI isn't technically 'dark money', we are still very much in the dark about it
Trust funds that few of us have ever heard of are bankrolling liberal-Left organisations here, says Nelson McCausland
There is a considerable interest in some sections of the media, especially the Left-leaning media, about sources of funding for political parties, political organisations and lobby groups. There has been talk of "dark money" and "secret sources" and the need for greater transparency, so here is a modest contribution to that transparency.
One of the major sources of funding for lobbying organisations is trust funds and, from time to time, one of them will get into the headlines as a result of a controversial grant.
A good example is the focus there was last year on the grant of £275,000 by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) to Teach na Failte, which works with former prisoners from the Irish National Liberation Army.
This came into the spotlight as a result of INLA funerals, which were seen as paramilitary shows of strength.
However, the JRCT is only one part of the Joseph Rowntree family of trusts.
Alongside the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT).
Both trust funds have the same trustees, but the difference is that the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust is able to make grants to non-charitable organisations, including political parties and political campaigns.
So, who do the JRRT support both in Great Britain and here in Northern Ireland?
The big political beneficiary in Great Britain is the Liberal Democrats, with grants of £230,000 in 2017 and £301,740 in 2018, as well as a grant in 2016 of £480,000 over five years to the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors and grants of £50,000 to the Scottish Liberal Democrats, £40,000 to the Welsh Liberal Democrats and £75,000 to the Yorkshire & The Humber Liberal Democrats in 2015.
In 2013 the Liberal Democrats were given £960,000 specifically "towards campaigning costs in the lead-up to the next general election in 2015".
Of course, of the 10 trustees, one is a Liberal Democrat peer, another is a Liberal Democrat MP, a third is a Liberal Democrat councillor and a fourth was a Liberal Democrat election candidate.
Other political recipients have included Red Pepper, an independent "radical red and green magazine" founded by the far-Left Socialist Movement, and smaller grants have gone to the Fabian Society and members of the Labour Party and the Green Party in Great Britain. However, the Liberal Democrats are the principal beneficiary.
Turning then to Northern Ireland, there have been only four beneficiaries of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust over the last few years - the Alliance Party, which is a sister party to the Liberal Democrats, Alliance for Choice, the Family Planning Association Northern Ireland (FPA) and the Rainbow Project.
In 2017 the JRRT gave £34,140 to the FPA "to campaign for abortion law reform in Northern Ireland" and, in 2018, they gave the FPA £25,070 "to influence political and legal opinion to achieve abortion law reform in Northern Ireland".
Meanwhile, Alliance for Choice, another pro-abortion group, received £49,800 in 2017.
Of course, those weren't their first pro-abortion grants, because, in 2016, Alliance for Choice received £51,540 "to build a civil society coalition (Trust Women Coalition) to press for abortion law reform in Northern Ireland" and the FPA received £44,452.
That made a total of £96,000 for pro-abortion campaigning in Northern Ireland in one year.
The Rainbow Project, which is an LGBT lobby organisation, received £40,000 in 2016 to campaign for same-sex marriage legislation in Northern Ireland.
That followed a grant of £22,600 in 2015 "to campaign on LGBT issues in the lead-up to the Northern Ireland Assembly elections".
In 2017 the Alliance Party received £20,000 "towards their general election campaign" and that was on top of the £150,000 given to the Alliance Party in 2016, to be spread over five years, though to 2021.
It seems, therefore, that in the key general election year of 2017, Alliance received a total of £50,000.
In that year the total income of the Alliance Party came in at £360,143 - so that £50,000 was a welcome contribution.
It's not what is commonly known as 'dark money', because each grant is recorded on the JRRT website, but most people are certainly in the dark about it.
Just as they are in the dark about the many other similar trusts that fund liberal-Left activism and seek to shape public opinion in Northern Ireland in a Leftward direction.
The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust has asked us to point out that it is an entirely distinct entity from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
Contrary to what was stated in this article, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust is a company limited by guarantee and, therefore, has no trustees.
Its decisions are taken by its board of directors and there are no individuals that sit on the boards of both the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
There is also no Liberal Democrat MP on the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust’s board of directors, as stated.
We are happy to set the record straight.