Belfast Telegraph

Stance of parties on backdating political donation law revealed

Most of the main parties did not ask for the law reforming political donations in Northern Ireland to be backdated when it was being considered, the Secretary of State said.

Only the Alliance Party proposed the measure should be implemented retrospectively to the start of 2014.

James Brokenshire said future gifts are to be published but was widely criticised after declining to apply the law to past donations.

He said: "I did not believe it right to impose retrospective regulations on people who donated in accordance with the rules as set out in law at the time."

Unlike the rest of the UK, the identities of donors have remained secret historically due to concerns about their security but critics are concerned the veil is harming accountability.

Seamus Magee, a retired head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, which regulates party finances, claimed the deal on party donations and loans must be part of the DUP/Conservative agreement to support the Government at Westminster.

Mr Brokenshire published submissions from party leaders on the issue.

DUP leader Arlene Foster wrote: "In addition to the more general question of whether to introduce full transparency, we are of the view that legislation to provide for this should apply to those donations and loans received following new legislative provisions taking effect."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams made no mention of backdating the measure.

He wrote: "Sinn Fein has repeatedly called for the highest levels of transparency in the funding of political parties.

"We have consistently called for an end to the practice of keeping the identity of donors secret and that the threshold for reporting donations should be lowered to £750."

Earlier this week, Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill criticised Mr Brokenshire for taking a "crass" decision pointing to a side deal with the Tories and the DUP.

The Alliance Party's David Ford accused Mr Brokenshire of offering "feeble excuses" for not applying the new law retrospectively.

The DUP has confirmed it received a Brexit donation before the referendum worth around £435,000 from a group of pro-union business people.

The money from the Constitutional Research Council was spent on pro-Brexit advertising throughout the UK.

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