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Mystery over recipient of watchdog's £6k fine linked to NI political donation

By Noel McAdam

Questions are being asked about a £6,000 fine over a political donation in Northern Ireland.

Secrecy laws prevent the disclosure of which party, donor organisation or individual has been sanctioned, and the breach of rules that led to it.

The fact that the secrecy laws now only apply in Northern Ireland led to the revelation by The Detail website.

Unlike the rest of the UK, the identities of donors have historically not been disclosed due to security concerns.

But all the main parties involved in talks to restore devolution - DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance - have denied the fine was imposed on them.

And yesterday the Green Party, People Before Profit and Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice denied the fine by the Electoral Commission applied to any of them.

CISTA - Citizens Independent Social Thought Alliance - also denied any connection to the penalty.

The Conservatives said they were not involved either.

The Labour Party NI was not immediately available for comment.

Nonetheless, the £6,000 fine is believed to be one of the largest ever issued in relation to a political donation here.

Among the biggest donations in recent years involving a Stormont party was the £435,000 given to the DUP by the Constitutional Research Council (CRC) as part of its Brexit campaign last year.

The Detail said it had asked the CRC if it was the subject of the fine, but reported yesterday "the organisation failed to reply to our questions".

The CRC is a relatively unknown organisation, but has made clear it is regulated by the Electoral Commission.

"We operate solely in the UK," a statement said.

"We accept donations only from eligible UK donors. Any suggestion that we have done anything else is basically defamatory." As a result of the requirements related to disclosure in the rest of the UK not applying in Northern Ireland, the DUP did not have to say that the cash came from the CRC.

But the party voluntarily confirmed that the CRC was its source - even though the names of the business people who gave the money to the CRC have never been identified.

However, a DUP spokesman said yesterday: "We have no reason to believe it relates to them either."

The announcement about the £6,000 fine was published as part of the Electoral Commission's monthly update on its completed enforcement action investigations.

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