Sinn Fein is in line to receive another £1.1 million from the will of an unheard-of mechanic who emerged last week as Northern Ireland’s biggest political donor.
William Edward Hampton, who was born in London and died last January, left almost all of his estate to Sinn Fein. He also left small amounts of money to a Labour MP and a Private Eye journalist.
The Electoral Commission last week disclosed that the party had received £1.5 million from Hampton in two separate tranches. But openDemocracy can reveal that Mr Hampton’s estate, after expenses were taken into account, was valued at £2.6 million. Which could see Sinn Fein receive more than £1m more from the reclusive donor.
A Sinn Fein source said that some of the money was still held up in legal disputes outside of Britain.
Hampton, who died in Wales aged 82, inherited considerable wealth from his parents and increased his personal fortune through a series of investments in the UK and internationally. His will explicitly states that the money is to be used “to cover election expenses, to fund Sinn Fein offices and advice centres” and to aid republican prisoners and their families.
The will also specifics that the funds must go to whichever party Gerry Adams is a member of. If Adams was not a member of any political party the money should go to the largest nationalist or republican party in Northern Ireland “other than the SDLP”.
A handful of individuals, including Labour MP Dennis Skinner and an investigative journalist with Private Eye were given small sums of up to £5,000. The rest of the estate was left to Sinn Fein.
The circumstances around the bequest are highly unusual. At the time that Hampton made the will in 1997, the year before the Good Friday Agreement was signed, he owned assets in England, Ireland, Singapore and New Zealand, yet was of “no fixed abode” and was living in a mobile home in rural County Cavan.
Hampton chose two former IRA members and senior republicans, Joe Cahill and Desmond Mackin, as executors to carry out the will. Cahill, who was convicted of murdering a Catholic policeman in 1942 and died in 2004, was considered one of the founding fathers of the Provisional IRA and one of its chief fundraisers in the United States.
Mackin, who was convicted for IRA membership, is Sinn Fein’s long-standing head of finance. In the early 1980s he resisted British attempts to extradite him from the US but has in recent years returned, with his flights and hotel bills picked up by Friends of Sinn Fein, the party’s lucrative overseas representative.
Friends of Sinn Fein has raised about $4.5 million between 2008 and 2018, according to an analysis by The Detail. But very little of that money has arrived in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland because of legal restrictions.
It is unclear why the outstanding £1.1 million from the Hampton bequest has not yet reached Sinn Fein, but a party source suggested to the Press Association that some of the assets were tied up in litigation outside the UK.
The £1.5m donation is the biggest donation recorded in Northern Ireland, dwarfing the £435,000 given to the Democratic Unionist Party by the Constitutional Research Council ahead of the European Union referendum in June 2016. After openDemocracy revealed the DUP’s Brexit donation, laws ending donor secrecy in Northern Ireland were finally introduced. Since 2017, donations to Northern Irish parties are now made public.
The record-breaking donation cements Sinn Fein’s position as the best-funded party in Northern Ireland. The £1.5 million it received from the Hampton bequest dwarfed the £338,000 in donations and bequests to the other Northern Ireland parties combined between April and June.
Sinn Fein will not have to pay inheritance tax on the donation. Under legislation brought in by Theresa May’s government two years ago to protect Conservative donors, any political party that has at least two MPs is not liable to pay tax on bequests. Had the law not been changed the pay would have had a bill of £470,000.
A spokesman for Sinn Fein said that the donation was a “positive boost” and that the party had been in full compliance with Electoral Commission rules and would declare any further money from Hampton’s bequest.
Funding laws are much stricter in the Republic of Ireland than the UK. Last year, Fine Gael was forced to turn down a €100,000 bequest from a supporter who living in England. Ireland’s governing party has called on Sinn Fein to pledge not to use any of the £1.5m donation in the Irish Republic.
“Sinn Fein are within their rights to accept the funding in their jurisdiction in Northern Ireland but I would hope they would respect Irish laws and not spend any of it on campaigns in Ireland,” Fine Gael senator James Reilly told the Sunday Independent.