Sinn Féin is the richest political party in Ireland

Party has a network of more than 50 properties, according to finance director Des Mackin

Gerry Adams, Michelle O’Neill and Mary Lou McDonald at a Sinn Féin conference in 2017. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Gerry Adams, Michelle O’Neill and Mary Lou McDonald at a Sinn Féin conference in 2017. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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Sinn Féin is the richest political party on the island of Ireland, with about 200 staff and, according to its director of finance, Des Mackin, an extensive network of more than 50 properties.

And its financial fortunes will improve further shortly as more money is retrieved from the estate of the late William (Billy) Hampton, who left millions to the party in 2018.

Sinn Féin has experienced a surge in membership applications since the general election was called in January, and will recruit more staff on the basis of its increased representation in Leinster House following the election, Mr Mackin has told The Irish Times.

Besides the four headquarter buildings in Dublin and Belfast declared in the party’s annual accounts, local branches of Sinn Féin own a further 50 or so properties that are used as constituency offices, he said.

No other party on the island has anything approaching a property portfolio of this size, and no other political party is anything approaching as cash-rich as Sinn Féin.

Mr Mackin is currently in the process of realising approximately €4 million that was left to the party by Mr Hampton, an unmarried English man who died in a public nursing home in Wales in 2018.

The executors of the 1997 will in which Mr Hampton left his estate to the party were Mr Mackin and late veteran republican Joe Cahill, who were Sinn Féin’s joint national treasurers at the time.

Sale of property

Money held in UK accounts has already been given to the party as part of the bequest, while property in Britain and Ireland that formed part of the estate is currently being sold, and approximately €1 million is in the process of being released from a bank account in Singapore.

“That transfer should be done by the end of the month,” Mr Mackin said. “The whole thing should be done by the end of the year.”

Political funding rules mean the money cannot be spent in the Republic, but the huge bequest is a massive boost to Sinn Féin’s overall financial position.

Mr Mackin said that since the election was called by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in January, the party had received an additional 4,200 membership applications, as well as about 500 applications to join its youth wing.

This will bring total membership for the party to around 15,000. According to their party spokespeople, Fine Gael has 25,000 members, while Fianna Fáil has 20,000.

Mr Mackin said that “pound for pound”, Sinn Féin and its elected representatives are able to employ more staff for the money they get from Dublin, London and Brussels than rival political parties because the party’s “activist ethos” means people are prepared to work for less.

Resisting extradition

Mr Mackin was jailed for IRA membership in the early 1970s and successfully resisted extradition from the US to Northern Ireland in the 1980s to face charges arising from a shooting incident involving undercover British soldiers and the IRA.

He told The Irish Times that he did not necessarily disagree with the view of the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, that Sinn Féin was run by unelected officials and not its political representatives.

“We don’t want a parliamentary party running the organisation,” he said. “We want to stay a party of activists. It’s a totally different model. There’s nothing mysterious about it.”

The former party leader, Gerry Adams, is heading up a new unit within the party to ensure it keeps its focus on its main objective of achieving a united Ireland, Mr Mackin said.

“Everything should be thought of in terms of a united Ireland. It is important to ensure and promote the united Ireland vision, to make sure it goes right through and that all our policies are thought of in those terms,” he said.

Three former Sinn Féin politicians who spoke separately to The Irish Times said it was their experience that paid party staff reporting to headquarters had sought to direct their work as elected representatives when they were in Sinn Féin.