Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Party donations: Veil must be lifted in interests of democracy

First Minister Peter Robinson says he cannot recall the DUP getting more than £5,000 in a single donation
First Minister Peter Robinson says he cannot recall the DUP getting more than £5,000 in a single donation

It is essential to bring transparency to political funding, and we should go further than current proposals. There is a widespread perception that money influences politics, not to mention Government contracts and favours. That perception is undermining confidence in the system and needs addressing.

The names of political donors are given to the Electoral Commission, which cannot publish them. That doesn't go far enough – people need to be able to see for themselves who funds parties.

Our unique arrangement is justified on security grounds; that donors could be attacked.

That argument wears thinner each month. When politicians stand for election their nomination papers, with supporters' signatures, are published. There have been no recent attacks.

The message that we are a society where people will be shot for associating with a democratic political party is wrong.

From October 2014, the Secretary of State will have the power to change the rules, subject to security advice.

Yet, even if UK standards are applied here, it will only cover donations over £7,500. That may be OK in London where vast sums are donated by corporations and unions, but our system needs a lower threshold.

First Minister Peter Robinson says he cannot recall the DUP getting more than £5,000 in a single donation; so adopting London rules would contribute no added transparency here.

A figure of £3,000 would be more reasonable.

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