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Disclosure of DUP Brexit funding raises more questions

The DUP has finally bowed to growing pressure to reveal the amount and source of funding received during the Brexit campaign last year.

It is now clear why the party was so reluctant to detail the sum of money involved with initial speculation that it was around £250,000.

In fact, the level was far in excess of this sum and actually totalled £425,000.

By any standards this is a very large amount of money for a Northern Ireland political party to receive for a single campaign.

Questions had been asked about the DUP's expenditure after the party paid for an expensive four-page advertisement wrapped around the outside of the Metro newspaper during the referendum campaign on the UK's future in the European Union.

Eyebrows were raised because the Metro only circulates in Britain where the DUP does not contest elections.

It certainly would not have reached referendum voters in Northern Ireland, which made the move all the more curious.

All this led to speculation that the move was designed to circumvent transparency rules on electoral funding in Britain as the names of donors in Northern Ireland are not disclosed for security reasons.

When Arlene Foster was asked about the advertisement she said it was covered by a donation that `had been properly put to the Electoral Commission.'

Pressed during a BBC interview about the sum of money involved, the DUP leader said she could not recall the actual amount her party had received, which seems a remarkable admission given what we now know.

It is fair to say that the DUP and Arlene Foster in particular, has not handled this particular issue well.

And while the disclosures made yesterday have at least provided some answers, they also give rise to further questions about this entire matter.

The party revealed that its Brexit campaign was funded by the previously obscure group the Constitutional Research Council which, according to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, `supports unionist causes in the United Kingdom.'

The group is headed by Richard Cook, a former vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party and a former election candidate.

However, beyond that relatively little is known about this group or where its money comes from.

At the very least, a political party being funded by an outside group should know in precise terms the source of that money and who is involved in the organisation.

The DUP has already denied a claim by Leave donor Arron Banks that the party had demanded money to back him.

It is clear we need to know much more about the circumstances of the sizeable donation received from the Constitutional Research Council and what it all entailed.

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