Belfast Telegraph

Party donation rules to be reviewed

The government has confirmed it is reviewing rules which allow donors to Northern Ireland political parties to remain confidential.

Northern Ireland Office (NIO) Minister of State Hugo Swire launched a public consultation on the arrangements that currently cover donations and loans to parties.

The law provides for sums above certain thresholds to be reported to the Electoral Commission, though it is effectively barred from releasing the information.

The confidentiality provisions expire on March 1 next year.

Mr Swire said: "We all want to see full transparency in politics and on the funding of political parties in particular. But I accept there have been real concerns in Northern Ireland about intimidation which has made it difficult to achieve this to date.

"The current confidentiality arrangements expire in March and this provides the perfect opportunity to review and consult on this difficult issue. I would urge all those with an interest to respond to the consultation."

The announcement follows the release of figures last week on party earnings.

The data revealed that Sinn Fein generated almost three times more money than its political rivals last year and outspent them twice over. The DUP brought in the least of the region's four main parties, posting a loss of £130,000, according to the Electoral Commission figures.

Sinn Fein's annual income was just under £1.2 million in 2009, ahead of the second placed SDLP with around £400,000. The republican party, whose elected representatives donate a proportion of their wages into the coffers, spent around £6,000 more than it brought in.

The DUP spent £480,000 while it only generated £350,000. The SDLP also posted a considerable loss, spending £500,000 - £100,000 more than its income. The UUP, which has forged a link with the Conservative Party, was the only party to stay in the black - generating £390,000 and spending £357,000.

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