Friday 23 February 2018

Sinn Fein's 'Irish unity' fund slashed

Party cuts money by half as Adams admits other options now on table

‘We’d prefer a unitary state, but can we look at other methods? Yes, absolutely’ – Gerry Adams. Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
‘We’d prefer a unitary state, but can we look at other methods? Yes, absolutely’ – Gerry Adams. Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Sinn Fein slashed funding for its 'United Ireland fund' in the run-up to the Brexit vote and the most recent Stormont and UK elections, new published accounts reveal.

Documents filed in the UK by the party show that it allocated £6,065 (€7,150) to its united Ireland department last year - less than half of what it had spent in 2014.

It is 65pc, or £10,211, less than the party allocated to its department for a united Ireland just two years ago.

This was despite Sinn Fein receiving £260,256 in grants from the UK government.

The accounts, which were filed to the UK's Electoral Commission, were published last week and account for the party's 2015 expenses.

This comes less than a month after Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said that a united Ireland was not the only option that he was willing to consider in terms of the future of the North.

"We'd prefer a unitary state but can we look at other methods? Yes, absolutely," he said.

This was despite Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, saying that the Brexit vote meant that the "British government has forfeited any mandate to represent the economic or political interests of the people" in Northern Ireland.

Read more: Sinn Fein left red-faced after IRA message hidden in Gerry Adams meme promoting united Ireland

A spokesperson for the party said there had been no policy change, despite the funding cuts to the United Ireland department.

"The United Ireland department is a dedicated research and co-ordinating project. This project is now mainstreamed across all party departments and we have intensified the campaign for a unity referendum and produced a series of major reports on the issue."

Sinn Fein's 'Six Counties' operation in the North ran at a £52,480 loss last year.

Income totalled £1,162,851, making it the North's richest party. However, costs came in at more than £1.2m.

The party declared that it received £730,637 in UK donations last year, up by £91,055 on the previous year's figure.

The DUP took in £533,682 last year and spent £511,766, while the UUP income totalled £412,805, with spending coming in at £310,613. The SDLP received £543,704 and spent £600,851.

Sinn Fein increased its spending on elections, organisational development and its press office in the North.

The file also shows that Sinn Fein's contribution to candidates was increased in the run-up to the UK general election of May 2015.

"The candidates were given £65,945, an increase of £26,821, despite the party's refusal to take up its seats in Westminster.

"Sinn Fein MPs do not receive a salary from Westminster. We do receive support to deliver a constituency service for the electorate," said a spokesperson.

Election expenses in 2015 amounted to £35,495, meaning that the party spent more than £100,000 on elections last year.

Another £43,811 was spent on 'political development', an increase of £16,518 compared to 2014.

However, the party reigned in spending in other areas as it attempted to account for a £29,860 funding deficit compared to 2014.

Spending on "wages and related costs" was reduced by £27,366 to £578,629.

The British government-appointed watchdog, the Electoral Commission, published the 2015 accounts for all the major parties last week.

It receives details of all large party donors but these are not made public due to safety and security concerns.

The commission repeated its recommendation that the British government should extend the same transparency regime on party funding to Northern Ireland as applies elsewhere in the United Kingdom as soon as possible.

Foreign investors have played a substantial part in bankrolling Sinn Fein in recent years and the party has an extensive fundraising network in North America.

Last year, it was revealed that movie stars, businessmen, construction firms and unions in the US had made donations to Sinn Fein to the tune of $12m (€10.8) in the last two decades.

The most generous donor over the years has been the Irish-American Chuck Feeney, who has given the party a combined $780,000.

Sunday Independent

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