Belfast Telegraph

Leaked letter backs claims four Northern Ireland parties wanted donors kept secret

By Steven Alexander

A leaked letter has backed claims that all of Northern Ireland's major parties except Alliance told the Secretary of State their past political donations should be kept under wraps.

Earlier this week, the Secretary of State announced plans to publish the names of party political donors in the future.

However, there were already arrangements in place that would have allowed James Brokenshire to reveal the identities of donors from 2014.

It led to accusations that the move had been a 'side deal' between the DUP and Conservatives as part of the arrangement for the local party to prop up Theresa May's government.

Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph revealed how the four biggest parties had pressured the Secretary of State into not backdating the transparency scheme.

Now a leaked letter also shows that the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Sinn Fein - as well as the DUP - wanted past donations to be kept secret.

In a letter to Labour shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith dated yesterday, Mr Brokenshire wrote: "In January 2017, I wrote to party leaders in Northern Ireland to seek views on whether the time was now right to move to full transparency for political donations and loans to Northern Ireland political parties.

"All parties that responded expressed the view that full transparency should be introduced. The parties were also asked about the date from which transparency should take effect. Only the Alliance Party proposed that transparency should be implemented retrospectively in response."

However, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said the proposals did not "go far enough", the SDLP said "we have nothing to hide" and the Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers said it had been a "disgraceful cop out on starting date" - even though all these parties opposed backdating. The letter appears to vindicate the DUP's claim that the donations proposal was not part of a side deal with the Tories.

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