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Parties fight to keep financial backers secret

By David Gordon

Three Northern Ireland political parties are bidding to keep a veil of secrecy around their financial backers.

The DUP, UUP and SDLP have made clear they want ongoing confidentiality for donors to parties here.

They have voiced security concerns if names of funders are made public and cited dissident republican attacks to support their case.

By contrast, Sinn Fein, Alliance and the Greens are backing transparency on donations.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where parties are not required to reveal donors' identities. This exemption for the province's politicians is due to expire next March.

However, it is expected that the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) will extend the secrecy provision for a further period.

A UK ethics watchdog — the Committee on Standards in Public Life — is due to tackle the issue at a public hearing in Belfast today. The Europa Hotel event is part of an inquiry into political party funding issues.

Representatives of the main Northern Ireland parties are due to address today's hearing.

In its written submission to the committee, the DUP stated: “Unfortunately there is still a likelihood at this time that |increasing exposure of donors’ identity in Northern Ireland would cause individuals and organisations to withdraw support from political parties on account of the risk of intimidation.”

The SDLP's submission stated: “The SDLP is concerned at the increased level of activity by the dissident groups. Increased bombings and shootings could have a detrimental effect on donors providing support.”

The Alliance Party, however, said: “Alliance supports the full normalisation of the party donation regime. We believe that the arguments used to rationalise exemptions have become redundant.”

Sinn Fein MLA Paul Maskey, who is due to give evidence at today's hearing, told the Belfast Telegraph: “Justifiable public cynicism is generated when it is perceived that political parties are not being open about their financial affairs.”

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