Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland parties spent £150k on election - Sinn Fein biggest spender

Elections chief blasts some parties for spending return failures

By Jonathan Bell

Nine Northern Ireland political parties spent £150,000 on the snap Assembly election in March.

That was almost half the previous year's campaigning total. At the Northern Ireland Assembly election in 2016, 10 political parties reported spending a total of £343,558 on campaigning.

Figures revealed by the Electoral Commission show that the big winners in the poll spent markedly different amounts of money. Sinn Fein spent over double that of rivals the DUP.

In the final tally only 1,168 votes was the difference between the two.

The DUP's spend of £21,929 is a marked contrast to the £425,622 it spent on its campaign to leave the European Union ahead of the historic referendum. Of the five main parties, only the SDLP spent less than the biggest unionist party in the country.

In the 2016 election the UUP was the biggest spender. It spent £95,855 compared to £26,443 this year. The DUP was next on £89,439 with Sinn Fein spending £53,243.

For the March 2017 Assembly snap poll, called in the wake of the late Martin McGuinness's resignation which collapsed the institutions, the parties only had six weeks to mount a campaign.

The biggest spend for all parties was on advertising at £61k with campaign broadcasts next on £37k. Alliance paid out the biggest single amount. The party paid £15k to one advertising firm, while the smallest amount paid out was again for advertising this time for the UUP at a cost of £18.

However, a number of parties - the Citizens Independent Social Thought Alliance, Conservative and Unionist Party, Cross-Community Labour Alternative, The Workers Party and Traditional Unionist Voice – all submitted their returns to the commission late. The Progressive Unionist Party of Northern Ireland failed to submit its return.

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Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, said: “The publication of these returns provides the public with important information on how much our political parties spent at the recent Northern Ireland Assembly election. We are disappointed that more than a third of the parties submitted their spending returns late or not at all.

"These failures are now being considered in line with the Electoral Commission’s Enforcement Policy.”

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