Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill says 'nothing to see here' over £1.5m donor
SINN Féin's Michelle O'Neill has said "there's nothing to see here" amid questions over the party's record-breaking £1.5 million donation.
She also insisted there is no bad blood between her and party colleague John O'Dowd who is challenging her for the post of vice-president.
Ms O'Neill was speaking publicly for the first time yesterday since the donation and leadership bid emerged last week.
Retired English mechanic William E Hampton bequeathed the huge sum to Sinn Féin despite having no known links to the party or Irish republicanism.
When he penned his will in 1997, his address was listed as 'no fixed abode' and stated he was living in a mobile home in the south-west of Ireland.
He died last year in Pembrokeshire in Wales, where he was living in a nursing home.
The political donation is believed to be the largest in Northern Ireland's history.
TUV leader Jim Allister has asked the National Crime Agency to investigate the origins of Mr Hampton's wealth. He said that around the time the will was made, prime minister Tony Blair "was on record as describing Sinn Féin as being 'inextricably linked' with the IRA".
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme yesterday, Ms O'Neill welcomed the donation in helping "lead the challenge towards a new and agreed Ireland".
She said she "didn't know Billy personally" and did not know he lived in a mobile home.
"No I didn't know him personally so I didn't know his back story until recently," she said.
Ms O'Neill added: "I understand that it is a juicy story but I mean there's nothing to see here."
Dismissing any concerns over the donation, she said: "In terms of financial rules, complying, all those things, we're fully comfortable and relaxed about all of that. We have complied and did our due diligence on all of those things."
Speaking also at Stormont, Ms O'Neill addressed former education minister John O'Dowd's leadership challenge.
He is hoping to secure nominations from party colleagues ahead of a likely challenge at November's Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Derry.
It was an unexpected development in a party known for its internal discipline and desire for a unified approach to leadership transitions.
"I am more than happy for John to put his name forward," Ms O'Neill said.
"I have spoken to him about it. We are comrades, we will be comrades through the election campaign and afterwards.
"Ultimately, the party membership will decide. I too will go forward and seek the endorsement of the party and refresh my mandate which they gave me at the last Ard Fheis.
"This is the nature of politics. It's open, it's democratic, it's the nature of the party."