Sinn Fein has maintained its position as both the wealthiest and highest spending political party in Northern Ireland, latest figures confirm.
The Electoral Commission revealed the party had an income of more than £1.2m last year, which it almost matched in expenditure.
Sinn Fein coffers are partly swelled because its elected representatives’ salaries are paid directly to the party, which then gives them an “industrial wage” of £22,000.
The DUP also saw its income soar to more than £615,000 in 2011 — a double election year — due in part to increased donations of around £80,000.
But it has a bigger financial surplus than Sinn Fein — almost £171,000 — because its expenditure was held to just over £440,000, leaving a healthier balance sheet overall.
SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell is also making good on a pledge he made when he took over last autumn to restore the financial fortunes of the party. Through increased donations — which went up from £75,000 to £157,000 — and fundraising efforts, the party almost doubled its income for the year ending December 31, 2011.
Income for the Ulster Unionist Party, however, fell by around £100,000 — although new leader Mike Nesbitt escapes responsibility since he only took over the reins following the resignation of Tom Elliott in the spring of this year.
But through spending cuts and financial management, the party still managed to stay out of the red, with an income almost £8,000 ahead of expenditure.
As the Alliance Party’s electoral fortunes grew last year — with increased numbers in the Assembly and local councils — its income fell behind expenditure.
Alliance, which now has two seats on the Executive, spent around £50,000 more than it brought in.
It insisted, however, the situation is temporary and the result of its recent electoral success.
A spokesman said: “With last year's double election, there was always going to be a large expenditure by the party.
“The results of those elections gave Alliance an eighth MLA, a second Executive ministry and an additional 14 councillors, with the largest increase in vote in both elections by any party.
“Our policies on a shared future are being put forward by a larger group. With this increase in elected representation, we are already seeing an increase in income.”
It is now almost five years since new rules required political parties and representatives here — for the first time — to report donations and loans to the Electoral Commission. The public is now able to see how much parties raise through funding and how much they spend. But the identities of political donors are still not made public because of the security threat.
Donations secrecy: renewed pleas to Paterson over ending exemption
By Noel McAdam
Pressure has intensified on the Government to end the secrecy over donations to Northern Ireland’s political parties.
They currently remain exempt from legislation in the rest of the UK — but Secretary of State Owen Paterson must decide next spring whether the time is right for greater transparency.
Two years ago Electoral Commission research revealed that most people here are in favour of ending the confidentiality surrounding the identity of donors to political parties. Yesterday, it urged progress on the issue.
“We have called on the UK Government to publish a timetable setting out how transparency can be improved in the reporting of donations and loans in Northern Ireland,” said commission head Seamus Magee.
“The publication of these financial accounts provides the public with information on how political parties raise money and what they spend it on.
“But we are still unable to publish any information on the donations and loans received by parties in Northern Ireland.”
The call was backed by campaign group Friends of the Earth which suggested a new public consultation this autumn in the run-up to the opt-out deadline next March.
The DUP and Sinn Fein, who have sufficient MLA numbers to make any legislative changes locally, are divided on the issue, and many believe Mr Paterson will maintain the status quo until a greater consensus emerges.
Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey said: “We believe it is good practice that parties would publish the donations that they do receive, particularly if they involve corporate donations, which we do not.”
But the DUP’s Simon Hamilton countered: “Given the current climate of dissident republican terrorist activity, I think we have got to be very cautious about radically changing the system.”