Foster defends handling of Brexit-ad donation questions

Posted By: February 28, 2017

David Young. Irish News. Belfast. Tuesday, February 28, 2017

DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Corick House Hotel in Clogher, Co Tyrone. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
ARLENE Foster has defended her handling of questions about a significant donation that bankrolled the DUP’s £425,000 pro-Brexit campaign.

The DUP leader faced scrutiny last week after claiming she did not know how much the party had been given by a then-unnamed mystery donor.

A day later, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson revealed the benefactor as a little-known British-based group of pro-Union business figures called the Constitutional Research Council.

Critics questioned how the party leader could not have been across[on top of] the detail of such a huge single donation – a cash boost that enabled the DUP to promote its Leave message on a UK-wide basis, including the purchase of a four-page Vote To Leave EU advert in the British Metro newspaper.

Mrs. Foster said giving a general figure in a BBC interview would have only drawn criticism.

“I didn’t have in my mind the very specific figure that we had been given,” she said.

“If I had said ‘oh, it’s in the region of £450,000’ I would have been attacked [with people asking] – ‘so you don’t know exactly how much it is?’

“I wasn’t going to enter into the realms of saying what it was and what it wasn’t.

“I knew by that stage that we were speaking to the individuals in question and we were hopeful that we were going to be as open and transparent as we have been.”

Mrs. Foster accused the media of not subjecting other parties to the same examination around their finances.

“It’s just a pity that Sinn Féin and Republicans aren’t as open and transparent about the millions of pounds, the million that they have received from America through the Republic of Ireland,” she said.

“Nobody knows where it comes from; nobody knows what it’s used for. When we get a donation for a completely legitimate purpose, to fight the European Union campaign, and we have shown everybody where it came from and what it was spent on, people are still asking questions of us and not asking any questions of the other parties.

“I find that bizarre in the extreme. It leads us to ask questions about what the media are doing in this campaign.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Foster dismissed as “complete nonsense” any suggestion she was attempting to avoid pre-election media scrutiny.

The DUP leader faced criticism last week when she declined to take press questions after launching her party’s manifesto, citing “man flu.”

None of her party colleagues stepped in to answer media queries on the DUP’s policy positions.

“I have made myself available to each and every one of the media when they have asked to speak to me. It’s complete nonsense to say we are trying to bypass the media,” she said.

“I don’t know where this comes from – it is nonsense. I genuinely wasn’t well last Monday. I had to go the doctor on Tuesday, and I am still recovering from it. So it is an absolute nonsense to suggest I am bypassing the media. It’s nonsense, rubbish.

“I have never hidden from the media, and I am not going to start now.”