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Margaret Ritchie: I’ll reveal who the SDLP’s donors are

SDLP leadership contender Margaret Ritchie has committed her party to revealing its financial backers — if she wins the race to succeed Mark Durkan.

The Stormont minister is up against MP and MLA Dr Alasdair McDonnell for the top spot, with voting taking place this weekend.

As part of her platform Ms Ritchie has drawn up an internal party document on promoting “transparency in politics” — a copy of which has been obtained by this newspaper.

It outlines a number of steps the South Down MLA would take on becoming leader.

“From April 1, 2010, the SDLP will voluntarily publish the names of all political donations over the threshold of £5,000,” the Ritchie document pledges.

“Currently, political parties in Northern Ireland must only report donations over £5,000 to the Electoral Commission, who must keep the name of donors entirely confidential, given the concern over personal security.

“I believe that the time has come for the public to know who exactly provides the financial fuel that keeps party political machines in operation.”

The voluntary publication of donor details would be a radical move.

Parties here have been repeatedly granted exemption from transparency legislation introduced in Britain some nine years ago.

The SDLP was widely regarded as one of the chief opponents of ending the secrecy.

Ms Ritchie's document also said: “We must rebuild trust between the political parties and the electorate. We must develop a new contract with voters based on openness, honesty and integrity.

“We must demonstrate that MPs, MLAs and councillors in the north are working for the benefit of our communities and not for a powerful few.

“We must close down any cosy relationships between politicians, developers and planners.

“As leader of the SDLP, I will ensure that the SDLP takes a lead in rebuilding trust in politics in the north.”

The leadership election will take place at the SDLP's annual conference this weekend in Newcastle's Slieve Donard Hotel.

Other proposals in Ms Ritchie's document include new register of interest rules for local councillors and stronger protection for whistleblowing in the public and private sectors.

The SDLP minister also calls for a review of planning legislation “to ensure that planning officials and elected representatives publicly detail all their contacts with developers and resident groups on any particular planning application”.

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