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Wednesday 17 January 2018

Loophole allows SF to keep €1m US donors secret

Standards Commission given details of just €8,800 received in the Republic for 2011

Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

Sinn Fein has not reported any of its foreign earnings -- over €1m from donations in the United States in the last three years alone -- to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) in Dublin, but may be recording its foreign donations via its accounts in Northern Ireland.

The party disclosed receipt of only €8,800 in donations in 2011 to Sipo. It claimed to have received no donations for 2010 and €24,000 for 2009, which comprised of four donations of €6,000 from four party members.

However, in the period 2009-2011, the party's fundraising arm in the United States, Friends of Sinn Fein US, reported under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to the US Department of Justice that it had raised $1,466,380 (€1,114,186), a figure that excludes donations received in the second half of 2011 during which it held extensive events in the United States to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Maze hunger strikes.

Political parties in the Republic are precluded from accepting money from foreign donors under Sipo guidelines, most recently reproduced for last year's presidential election.

The guidelines, reprinted for that election, state: "A political party or any of its accounting units may not accept a donation, of any value, from an individual (other than an Irish citizen) who resides outside of the island of Ireland. Neither must a donation, of any value, be accepted from a body corporate or an unincorporated body of persons which does not keep an office in the island of Ireland from which at least one of its principal activities is directed."

The published declarations on donors in the United States, logged with the US Department of Justice, show its fundraising arm, Friends of Sinn Fein US, received multiple donations from companies and individuals, although these funds were not repatriated to the Republic, according to Sipo returns.

There are also Friends of Sinn Fein in Australia, Canada, Britain and, possibly, elsewhere though no accounts are available. The party did, however, record substantial but anonymous donations in its accounts submitted to the Northern Ireland Electoral Commission, the UK equivalent of the Republic's Standards in Public Office Commission.

In its total declared income of £1,289,335 (€1,581,230) to the UK Electoral Commission, it recorded donations of £573,221 (€702,993) for 2010. The previous year it recorded donations in its UK returns at £462,856 (€567,642).

The declaration of the donations in Northern Ireland is allowed under a foreign donations loophole that was introduced as part of the British government's deal in the peace process.

Under the laws governing political donations in the UK, British -- but not Northern Ireland parties -- are prevented from receiving any money from foreigners.

When the UK Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000 was introduced "certain exemptions" were introduced for Northern Ireland parties allowing them to fundraise outside the UK and to keep the identity of their donors secret for "security" reasons.

It was argued at the time that donors to political parties in Northern Ireland could be under threat if their identities were to become public.

Under the UK PPERA legislation parties in Northern Ireland can legitimately receive donations from citizens of the Republic or from Irish citizens living abroad (under section 71B (1)(a)), but only if the donor can produce an Irish passport or certificate of nationality or naturalisation in the Republic.

The Electoral Commission office in Belfast said last week that it cannot, under law, disclose any details of donors to political parties, including Sinn Fein.

At the time the British government introduced the exemptions for the northern parties it said it would review this in light of future possible threats to donors. The exemptions have remained untouched, however, despite the greatly improved security situation.

In 2010, Sinn Fein recorded no donations with Sipo in Dublin despite its US fundraising arm informing the US authorities that it raised $460,829 (€350,147) the same year.

Sinn Fein recorded donations of only €24,000 in the Republic in 2009, which comprised of four donations of €6,000 each from party representatives Martin Ferris, Mary Lou McDonald, Aengus O Snodaigh and Arthur Morgan.

In its six-monthly return to the US Department of Justice for the period ending April 25, 2011, Friends of Sinn Fein US recorded donations from some 194 companies and individuals. The words "corp" and "inc" appear after many of the donor names.

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