SNP MPs Martin Docherty Hughes (right) and Ian Blackford (centre) with members of Sinn Fein, the party which refuses to take its seats at Westminster.
By Bill Heaney
West Dunbartonshire MP Martin Docherty Hughes met members of Sinn Fein at Westminster on Tuesday to discuss Brexit, language rights and campaigns for referendums on Irish unity and Scottish independence.
The meeting made waves on social media when a photograph of the representatives of the Scottish and Irish republican parties pictured together appeared on Twitter.
Some of the contributors to the social media site literally could not spell independence and another, going by the name of Bluenose, replying to the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford, said: “If only Michael Stone [the Unionist gunman who some years ago attacked the funeral of three republicans in Belfast] was about now with one of his grenades.”
Sinn Fein tweeted that the pictures sent out from their talks were of a meeting in Parliament buildings.
It was alleged that IRA Chief of Staff Martin Lynch and IRA Army Council member Sean ‘Spike’ Murray were in the pictures.
It was obvious that some people were angry at what was taking place and claimed the IRA Army Council were running the ‘talks’.
One tweet said: “Unionism must walk away.”
Martin Docherty-Hughes in referendum strategy talks with Sinn Fein.
We were unable to ascertain what the SNP’s position was because they refuse to speak to The Dumbarton Democrat.
It is just over two years since Martin Docherty Hughes asked the government why the DUP’s main Brexit funder was fined £6,000, after a news organisation, openDemocracy, disclosed that “dark money” had changed hands.
The SNP MP for West Dunbartonshire, used Northern Ireland Questions at Westminster to ask the then Secretary of State James Brokenshire why the DUP’s Brexit donors had been given a record fine by the Electoral Commission.
Secretive donors to the DUP, who were the Tories’ partners in government, are protected from public scrutiny by Northern Irish secrecy laws.
Speaking in the chamber of the Commons, Docherty-Hughes said: “At the weekend, an investigation by openDemocracy revealed that the Constitutional Research Council – an organisation with close ties to the Scottish Conservative Party – had been given a record fine for failing to disclose the origin of the £425,000 donation to the DUP during the EU referendum.
“Can the Secretary of State enlighten the House today as to why the Constitutional Research Council was given the fine in the first place?”
openDemocracy published research into a mysterious fine charged by the Electoral Commission to an unnamed “regulated entity”.
Their investigation found that the fine was issued to the DUP’s controversial Brexit backers, the Constitutional Research Council.
And that the only law it can have broken, given the size and nature of the fine, is of complying with rules requiring them to tell the Electoral Commission where their funding comes from.
Little is known about the Constitutional Research Council, other than that it is chaired by Richard Cook, who is former vice-chair of the Scottish Conservatives.
openDemocracy’s previous investigations have shown that Cook founded a business in 2013 with the former head of the Saudi Arabian intelligence service and a Danish man at the centre of a notorious Indian gun-running incident.
openDemocracy asked Cook himself whether his organisation was fined £6,000 for failing to disclose where it gets its money from. He declined to comment.
Ken Maginnis: Peer was recorded calling MP ‘queer’
Meanwhile, a recording of Lord Maginnis using the term “queer” to describe Scottish National Party MP Hannah Bardell has been released by the Huffington Post.
Lord Maginnis had earlier denied that he had used the term.
But the Huffington Post journalist who spoke to the peer on Wednesday has now tweeted an audio recording of his interview with Lord Maginnis.
The MP called the remarks a “homophobic attack” and said she would report it to police, who are now investigating.
A Metropolitan Police statement said its “Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team is looking into an allegation of hate crime at the House of Commons made to them on Thursday, 9 January”.Speaking to the BBC on Thursday afternoon, before the Huffington Post recording was released, Lord Maginnis said: “I certainly didn’t call her a ‘queer’.
“Whether I was asked a question which used that particular term I’m not sure. It’s not something I remember.”
Lord Maginnis had spoken to the Huffington Post on Wednesday, after Ms Bardell made allegations against him that he verbally abused security staff as he entered Parliament the day before.
Ms Bardell witnessed the incident on Tuesday and raised it in the House of Commons, saying it was “one of the worst cases of abuse of security staff” she had witnessed as an MP.
Lord Maginnis later told BBC News NI that he was not displaying his security pass at the time and admitted that he got “cross” when staff insisted that he take it out of his bag and show it to them.
He explained that doing so would cause him pain due to his arthritis, adding he had difficulty with balance because of nerve damage in his legs and feet.
But Lord Maginnis went on to accuse Ms Bardell of having an “ulterior motive” in making her allegations.
He said he believed she had complained against him because of his well-known opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.
Lord Maginnis made similar claims about Ms Bardell’s motives in his Huffington Post interview, but then was heard to say: “Queers like Ms Bardell don’t particularly annoy me. Okay, she’s got her cheap publicity out of it.”
Returning to the Commons on Thursday afternoon, Ms Bardell said: “I’m sorry to say the member from the Other Place [House of Lords] who I have complained about has now launched a homophobic attack on me in the press.
“This will be reported to the police and I know I, and others, consider this to be a hate crime.”
Addressing Ms Bardell’s concerns, the Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg urged Lord Maginnis to apologise, calling the comments “disgraceful”.
In a statement, the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, said: “I am deeply concerned by recent reports of a Member of the House of Lords directing offensive language towards parliamentary security staff and a Member of Parliament”.
“The reported behaviour and use of such language is totally unacceptable and has no place in Parliament.
“We are working hard to build an inclusive and respectful environment, and behaviour such as this totally undermines our collective efforts.”
Lord Fowler added: “Security on the parliamentary estate is everyone’s responsibility. Any disregard for security rules is against the interests of us all.
“Our security staff do a difficult job with the utmost professionalism and deserve support from all members.”
In an interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme earlier on Thursday, Lord Maginnis admitted he became angry with the security guards.
“The next thing this Scottish lassie, I forget her name, I’ve never seen her before, she was there and she stood up in the House of Commons and made a scene about my being bad tempered, which was quite true.
“It’s very strange, she must have an ulterior motive,” the peer added.
Lord Maginnis, who is 81, became a life peer in 2001. Prior to that he had been the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone since 1983.