Two years after the ‘Loyalists Against Democracy (LAD)’ parody website denied that it had ever taken a penny from a political party, the group’s founder has admitted that he received money from Basil McCrea.
More than two years ago, after Mr McCrea’s NI21 party imploded, its former deputy leader, John McCallister, revealed that the influential LAD website had been quietly brought on board by Mr McCrea without his knowledge and had produced its televised Party Election Broadcast (PEB).
However, Mr McCallister said that he did not know if the group had a wider role working for the party because there were many aspects of the NI21 organisation about which he was kept in the dark.
In the wake of that interview, LAD used its Facebook page to respond in typically abrasive fashion to a question from Willie Frazer, saying: “We’ve never been paid a single penny by any political party. So f*** up you halfwit.”
READ MORE: LAD founder unmasks himself
Last week John-Paul Whearty unmasked himself as the founder of LAD. Invoices which NI21 lodged with the Electoral Commission show that Mr Whearty personally invoiced Mr McCrea for £1,500 to cover a “single day video shoot”.
Speaking to the News Letter, Mr Whearty said that the money did not end up with him and went to others who had been working on the PEB – which was widely praised at the time for its originality.
But at the time, the financial and personal links with Basil McCrea’s party were not made public – despite the fact that LAD was using its social media accounts to aggressively question rivals. Ahead of the May 2014 European election, LAD praised the PEB as “rather good” and sought to undermine others – including the News Letter, which it claimed had “an agenda” – when they asked legitimate questions about the party.
Mr Whearty now denounces NI21 as “a vanity project” which “a lot of people got caught up in”. When asked if it was unethical to accept NI21 money, yet use an anonymous account to decry its rivals or those questioning it, Mr Whearty blamed a former LAD colleague - with whom he fell out and who went on to work for Mr McCrea – for some of the messages. “You need to speak to [him],” was all that he would say about it, adding that the man “wasn’t very happy to not be a member of LAD any more”.
Mr Whearty said that no one else who posted from the LAD account was a politician or very close to a politician.
‘I want to lead the Party Party’
When asked if he would ever consider a political career, John-Paul Whearty says with deadpan seriousness: “Oh yeah, the Party Party. We’re gonna run for election as the Party Party...we’re gonna just take minimum wage and spend all the money on throwing parties because you might as well.”
Although he was born across the border, he says that he supports the Union but would like to see Northern Ireland adopting UK-wide laws on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
In the EU Referendum, he voted to Remain and says he thinks “it would be a disaster” if the UK left the EU and says “I don’t think that vote should have been decided by democracy; I think that is a decision that can be taken at a much higher level because you elect politicians to make those decisions for you”.