Belfast Telegraph

Eilis O'Hanlon: Never mind it's Sinn Fein, why would anyone leave £1.5m to any political party?

Republicans not the only politicians with a habit of living it large at other people's expense, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness
Labour’s Dennis Skinner
The Northern Bank raid
Barry McElduff

Many strange questions have been raised in recent days by the news that a retired motor mechanic who died earlier this year in Wales left millions of pounds in his will to Sinn Fein.

Where did William Edward Hampton get so much money? How well paid are mechanics over there anyway? More to the point, why didn't the late Mr Hampton just leave it to the local cats-and-dogs home, where it might actually have done some good, instead of letting his wealth be weaponised on campaigning for a border poll, which will only further raise tensions?

Some of the questions have been answered. Sort of. The 82-year-old Englishman apparently inherited a large sum from his parents and invested it around the world, including Singapore and New Zealand. He also left a small sum to veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner, so maybe he had a fondness for doomed left-wing causes.

One question, though, has not really been asked, let alone answered, and that's why anyone would choose to leave their life savings to a political party in the first place.

Not just Sinn Fein. Any party.

Had the man never read a newspaper or watched the news and seen how politicians waste all the cash they already have at their disposal?

As soon as politicians get their hands on other people's money it generally disappears faster than Eoghan Quigg's singing career after The X Factor.

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There's no evidence that this money - now estimated to be as much as £2.5m, up on initial estimates of £1.5m - won't disappear down the same black hole.

It's not as if Sinn Fein is short of cash as it is. Even before receiving what is now the single largest ever political donation in Northern Ireland, they were easily the richest party here, pulling in twice as much in contributions last year as the DUP, according to the latest Electoral Commission figures.

That's before the $4.5m raised by the American organisation Friends of Sinn Fein between 2008 and 2018 is taken into account - not to mention the £342,000 the party claimed in expenses from Westminster and Stormont in 2018 alone, despite not taking their seats in the House of Commons and Stormont not having sat in session since early 2017, when the then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness pulled down the Executive.

William Hampton's will specifies that his money be put towards "election expenses", but it's genuinely hard to think how much more republicans could possibly splurge without having all election leaflets printed on £50 notes.

Last year Sinn Fein spent £940,000 in Northern Ireland alone. Some of that money went towards the West Tyrone by-election, caused by the resignation of Barry McElduff after he appeared to mock the victims of the Kingsmill massacre on the anniversary of the killings.

Imagine giving away all your money to a party, only to realise it was going to be wasted on pointless votes caused by its representatives making fun of the dead.

As Parliament descends into chaos in advance of the Brexit deadline, it looks likely that we'll all be heading to the polls again in the next couple of months.

William Hampton's fortune is about to be squandered in constituencies where most republican voters would pencil their 'X' on the ballot paper next to a shop dummy as long as it was wearing a green, white and orange rosette.

As for the late benefactor's request that some of his money go to prisoners, isn't that what the Northern Bank job was for? How much more lolly do ex-inmates need to keep them in the style to which they've become accustomed?

The saddest part of this whole story is that the late car mechanic signed his will while he was in his 60s, of "no fixed abode" and living in a mobile home in Co Cavan.

He was basically roughing it in a caravan so that future members of Sinn Fein could jet around the world in luxury, enjoying the sort of high life that makes Prince Harry and Meghan Markle look as if they're slumming it.

Sinn Fein are not the only politicians with a habit of living it large at other people's expense. They all do the same.

The Belfast Telegraph carried a story a few years ago that Belfast City Council had spent £40,000 putting up representatives in luxury hotels around the world, including Trump International in Las Vegas, where the glass on the outside of the 64-storey monstrosity is infused with gold.

The most money of all was spent on one Alliance councillor staying at a hotel in Nashville, home of country music. Couldn't she have just switched on Hugo Duncan on BBC Radio Ulster and got the same experience for free?

It could be argued that at least Sinn Fein's bills will be paid in future from William Hampton's largesse rather than by taxpayers. Unfortunately, we all know that's not how it works. Sinn Fein will continue to cream it in from the public purse, even after this lottery win. William Hampton's millions will just be an added extra on top of the mountain of loot on which they already sit.

Politicians rarely ever dip their hands into their own pockets if they can help it. The new Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson once submitted an expenses claim for a shopping trip to Asda, where she spent 78p on a bottle of Mr Sheen and £16 on a lavatory-roll holder.

Considering all the money they're already claiming from people who have to buy their own loo-roll holders, it beggars belief why anyone would freely chose to give these chancers a fiver a month in a direct debit, never mind handing over their entire life savings.

William Hampton didn't even demand a position in Sinn Fein in return for adding so generously to the party's existing fat kitty, when by rights he should have been in line for a seat - heck, make that a throne - on the ard chomhairle.

His life and death remain a mystery. We will probably never know what caused him to leave everything to Sinn Fein. Ultimately, it was his money and he could do with it whatever he liked.

It's impossible all the same not to think that he would have been better off taking it out of the bank in cash, heading up to the Hebrides and burning the lot, as pop group The KLF once controversially did with a million pounds of their own earnings as an "artistic statement".

At least that would have cut out the middle man.

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