Former DUP leader, Peter Robinson, (left) in paramilitary uniform, 1986.
The following story, first published in the Irish Times on 16 May, is of a massive donation to the DUP, which reads like a John le Carré novel – but voters need facts, not fiction.
What connects Brexit, the DUP, dark money and a Saudi prince? By Fintan O’Toole
If Northern Ireland were a normal democracy, the election campaign would be dominated by a single question: how did the Democratic Unionist Party end up advancing the cause of a united Ireland through its support for Brexit? More specifically: what role did dark money play in that extraordinary decision? This story has all the makings of a John le Carré thriller but democracy on this island needs facts, not fiction.
To recap briefly: two days before the Brexit referendum last June, the Metro freesheet in London and other British cities came wrapped in a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. Bizarrely, it was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. At the time, the DUP refused to say what the ads cost or where the money came from.
We’ve since learned that the Metro wraparound cost a staggering £282,000 (€330,000) – surely the biggest single campaign expense in the history of Irish politics. For context, the DUP had spent about £90,000 (€106,000) on its entire campaign for the previous month’s assembly elections. But this was not all: the DUP eventually admitted that this spending came from a much larger donation of £425,622 (€530,000) from a mysterious organisation, the Constitutional Research Council.
The mystery is not why someone seeking to influence the Brexit vote would want to do so through the DUP. Disgracefully, Northern Ireland is exempt from the UK’s requirements for the sources of large donations to be declared. The mystery, rather, is who were the ultimate sources of this money and why was it so important to keep their identities secret.
The Constitutional Research Council is headed by a Scottish conservative activist of apparently modest means, Richard Cook. It has no legal status, membership list or public presence and there is no reason to believe that Cook himself had half a million euro to throw around. But the DUP has been remarkably incurious about where the money ultimately came from. Peter Geoghegan (sometimes of this parish) and Adam Ramsay of the excellent openDemocracy website did some digging and what they’ve come up with is, to put it mildly, intriguing.
What they found is that Richard Cook has a history of involvement with a very senior and powerful member of the Saudi royal family, who also happens to have been a former director of the Saudi intelligence agency. In April 2013, Cook jointly founded a company called Five Star Investments with Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz al Saud. The prince, whose address is given as a royal palace in Jeddah, is listed on the company’s initial registration as the holder of 75 per cent of the shares. Cook had 5 per cent. The other 20 per cent of the shares belonged to a man called Peter Haestrup, a Danish national with an address in Wiltshire, whose own colourful history we must leave aside for reasons of space.
No casual investor
Prince Nawwaf, who died in 2015, was no casual investor. He had been Saudi minister for finance, government spokesman and diplomatic fixer before becoming head of intelligence. His son, Mohammed bin Nawwaf, has, moreover, been the Saudi ambassador to both the UK and Ireland since 2005. When Five Star was set up in 2013, Prince Nawwaf was 80, had suffered a stroke and used a wheelchair. It seems rather remarkable that he was going into business with a very minor and obscure Scottish conservative activist. But we have no idea what that business was. Five Star never filed accounts. In August 2014, the Companies Office in Edinburgh threatened to strike it off and in December it was indeed dissolved.
It may be entirely co-incidental that the man who channelled £425,622 to the DUP had such extremely high level Saudi connections. We simply don’t know. We also don’t know whether the current Saudi ambassador had any knowledge of his father’s connection to Richard Cook. But here’s the thing: the DUP claims not to know either. And that is at best reckless and at worst illegal.
Arlene Foster told the BBC in late February that she did not even know how much the mystery donor had given the party. Then the party, under pressure, revealed the amount, but insisted that ascribing the donation to Cook’s Constitutional Research Council was enough and people should stop asking questions. Then, in early March, Jeffrey Donaldson told openDemocracy that the DUP did not need to know the true source of the money.
But this is simply untrue. The UK electoral commission is clear: “a donation of more than £500 cannot be accepted… if the donation is from a source that cannot be identified”. The legal onus is on the DUP to establish that the real donor was entitled to put money into a UK political campaign. If it can’t do that, it has to repay the £425,622. Since it has not done so, we have to assume it knows the true source is not, for example, a foreign government – which would be illegal.
The DUP has harmed Northern Ireland and endangered the union it exists to protect. How much did the lure of dark money influence that crazy decision? Any self-respecting voter would want to know.
Fintan O’Toole: Church control of hospitals maintains myth of charity
So, who are the DUP? – Kitty S Jones
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is more closely ideologically aligned to the Conservatives than previous coalition partners the Lib Dems, who have ruled themselves out of propping up any minority government. But who are they?
The DUP is a right-wing unionist political party in Northern Ireland. It was founded by Ian Paisley in 1971, at the height of the Troubles, who led the party for the next 37 years. Now led by Arlene Foster, it is the party with the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and is the fifth-largest party in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. Following the 2017 general election, the party has agreed to support a Conservative minority government, following a hung parliament, on a case-by-case basis on matters of “mutual concern”. The DUP have historic links with the Loyalist terrorists.
As social conservatives, they are a party that arose in part to oppose the civil rights movement and nationalism in Northern Ireland.
Conservatives and the DUP have ties that go back many years. When Enoch Powell was expelled from the Conservative party for his extreme racism and highly divisive politics, he moved to Northern Ireland.
As a unionist, Powell accused the Heath government of undermining the Government at Stormont. He opposed the abolition of the devolved Parliament in 1972. Following his departure from the Conservatives, Powell was recruited by the Ulster Unionists to stand in the seat of South Down, winning it in the second election of 1974. He continued to serve as an MP in Northern Ireland during some of the worst years of the Troubles. Powell strongly opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which gave Dublin a formal say in the running of Northern Ireland for the first time. In a heated exchange in the House of Commons on 14 November 1985, the day before the agreement was signed, Powell accused Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of “treachery”.
In 1997, Lady Thatcher said Powell was right to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement, as she spoke of her regret over the deal.
He believed the only way to stop the IRA was for Northern Ireland to be an integral part of the United Kingdom, governed in the same as its other constituent parts.
His campaign manager was Jeffrey Donaldson. Donaldson said, “I worked alongside two of the greatest names in Unionism in the 20th century.
“Between 1982 and 1984 I worked as Enoch Powell’s constituency agent, successfully spearheading Mr. Powell’s election campaigns of 1983 and 1986.”
Donaldson is the longest serving of the DUP’s MPs.
Ian Paisley pictured with the Red Beret of the Ulster Resistance at a rally in Ballymena, attended by Peter Robinson and Alan Wright Ulster Clubs Chairman.
Despite the fact that the British government claimed neutrality and deployed military forces to Northern Ireland simply to “maintain law and order” during the Troubles, the British security forces focused on republican paramilitaries and activists, and the Ballast investigation by the Police Ombudsman confirmed that British forces colluded on several occasions with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and furthermore obstructed the course of justice when claims of collusion and murder were investigated.
It’s often a forgotten detail that the British Army shot dead thirteen unarmed male civilians at a proscribed anti-internment rally in Derry, on 30 January, 1972 (“Bloody Sunday”). A fourteenth man died of his injuries some months later and more than fourteen other civilians were wounded. The march had been organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).
This was one of the most prominent events that occurred during the Northern Irish Conflict as it was recorded as the largest number of people killed in a single incident during the period.
Bloody Sunday greatly increased the hostility of Catholics and Irish nationalists towards the British military and government while significantly elevating tensions during the Northern Irish Conflict. As a result, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gained more support, especially through rising numbers of recruits in the local areas.
Government files declassified in 2015 show that the government thought the DUP may have used the Ulster Resistance as “shock troops” during protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The DUP is firmly opposed to the extension of abortion rights to Northern Ireland. Their leader, Arlene Foster, last year vowed to maintain the province’s ban on abortion, except where the life of the woman is at risk.
Official party policy does not provide an exception from their position on abortion even for victims of rape. The closest they’ve come to concession on the issue was leader Arlene Foster agreeing to “carefully consider” a High Court ruling that said banning abortion for rape victims was against British and European human rights laws.
DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr said gay relationships were “offensive and obnoxious” in 2005 and in 2007 said he was “pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism”.
The party blocked gay marriage law despite it winning approval by Northern Ireland’s parliament in 2015. They used a legal tool to prevent same-sex unions passing it to law after it passed a knife-edge vote in the Assembly.
Gay marriage divisions threatened to derail this year’s power-sharing talks in Stormont when the DUP refused to back down.
The DUP’s former environment minister described climate change as a “con.” There are also creationists within the party.
Ulster Resistance Flag ‘C’ Division, bearing the Red Hand of Ulster emblem
During the Troubles, the DUP opposed attempts to resolve the conflict that would involve sharing power with Irish nationalists/republicans, and rejected attempts to involve the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland affairs. It campaigned against the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974, the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. In the 1980s, the party moved to create a paramilitary movement, which culminated in the Ulster Resistance.
Back in March, an election was triggered in Northern Ireland. The DUP had slumped in public opinion polls after it emerged that they are linked to a major financial scandal. The Renewable Heat Incentive, known locally as the Cash For Ash scandal, was set up under DUP politician Arlene Foster, and appears to have been badly mismanaged, resulting in a loss of some £400 million to the Northern Irish taxpayer.
After Foster refused to stand down, Sinn Fein walked away from the power-sharing agreement, thereby triggering the election.
Foster said she was willing to support a public inquiry into a botched green energy scheme that will cost taxpayers up to £500m and has triggered the current political crisis.
But the Democratic Unionist party leader said she was not afraid of elections to a new Northern Ireland assembly, while acknowledging that any campaign would be rancorous and “brutal”.
Lord Hain said today that the Conservatives have not been neutral regarding Northern Ireland (NI) since Cameron’s government, and have been headed towards “backroom deals” with the DUP for some time. This has all served to undermine the Balance of Powers at Stormont, and risks jeopardising the peace process in NI. As it is, the Assembly, estabished in 1998 following the Good Friday Agreement, is in crisis and has been for months.
The proposed DUP alliance will not help that situation one bit, nor can the Conservatives claim any neutrality in any interventions, since they are so dependent on the DUP to prop them up, permitting them stay in office. But it is power for the sake of power, rather such an alliance serving the national interest.
Northern Ireland’s political settlement is currently teetering on the edge of collapse. If that is to be prevented, somehow the DUP and Sinn Fein need to reach an agreement, re-establishing the Balance of Powers and they probably need support, to be encouraged into doing so. If the British Government is in a formal arrangement with the DUP that will, to put it mildly, greatly complicate the process. How can the Northern Ireland Minister possibly appear to be neutral in any negotiations? To risk peace in Northern Ireland for the sake clinging onto power is despicable.
Article 1 (v) of the Good Friday Agreement commits the “sovereign government” to exercise its power with “rigorous impartiality.”
As Matthew Scott says: “Only by quibbling over the precise meaning of “sovereign government” can a deal between the DUP and the sovereign government in Westminster be understood as anything other than a breach of the Good Friday Agreement. The spirit of the agreement is abundantly clear: Britain is meant to be impartial between the Northern Ireland parties. It is not acceptable to be Perfidious Albion just to let a broken Prime Minister stagger on for a few more months. By even contemplating this deal Mrs May is playing with a blow-torch in a petrol station.”
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