Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

'Scrap secrecy for party donors'

Alliance Party MP Naomi Long said donors to Northern Irish political parties must be made public

Donors to Northern Irish political parties must be made public to convince voters that elected representatives are not available for sale, an MP has warned.

East Belfast Alliance Party MP Naomi Long said while secrecy exists for cash donors then no political party can defend itself against that charge.

The Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee recommended in March that donations of £7,500 or more should be made public from October 2014, provided the security situation remained stable and security advice was taken to ensure the naming of donors would not compromise the safety of anyone identified.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said last month while she wanted to make the law around donations the same as in the rest of the United Kingdom, it was not possible amid fears political donors could be subjected to violent reprisals.

Ms Long, speaking on the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, today told the Commons: "I think it's important in terms of trust and confidence that the public believe that their elected representatives are not essentially available for sale and the only way we can convince people of that is to maximise transparency around these issues. While the secrecy is there, no political party can effectively defend itself against that charge because that information is not in the public domain and available for scrutiny.

"My own party does that on a voluntary basis... we would certainly encourage other parties to do so but I believe as of October 2014 we should now be moving towards a more normalised situation in terms of donations. And the onus then should be on donors to decide whether they wish to donate or not, knowing those donations will be made public."

Northern Ireland Minister Mike Penning said the Bill "moves things forward" slowly by giving the Government the power to release the names of some donors if they agree to their names being put in the public domain. But he acknowledged that change may not be at the speed some would like.

Mr Penning said: "While there is a threat, and I know we're never going to be in the perfect situation that there is no threat to anybody, but while we are in that position I must be very, very careful to make sure that those that wish to donate do not put themselves or their loved ones at risk by revealing their identities at this stage.

"We all would love to be in a completely different position than we are now and I know there are MPs that don't agree with me on this and I respect them, completely respect them, on their view. But actually this Bill does move us forward, perhaps not at the speed that some people would like but it does move us forward."

Ms Long's amendment, which would bring forward the date when the Government could release the names of some donors from October 2014 to this coming January, was defeated by 294 votes to 16, Government majority 278.

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