Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Time to tackle this thorny funds issue

The long-standing controversy over funding for political parties has again come to the fore, with the revelation that the Tories' former chief fundraiser Peter Cruddas boasted that he could provide access to the Prime Minister in return for significant donations.

Events have moved swiftly, with the resignation of Mr Cruddas, as well as Mr Cameron's condemnation of such practices. Nevertheless, major questions remain to be answered, with the further revelation that the Prime Minister hosts small private dinners in his Downing Street flat for close associates who happen to be Tory donors.

This is not a matter on which Labour will be over-keen to attack the Tories, apart from the usual headline-grabbing comments. Funding is a big issue for the major parties in general.

In Northern Ireland there is a particular twist to the issue, as donors are not required to declare their identities because of "security issues." In the rapidly-improving security situation such an excuse no longer has the same credibility.

Political parties do require funding, but the question is how best to do it. What is needed both here and in other parts of the United Kingdom is much greater transparency.

There is a need for an all-party investigation about the best way to tackle this thorny issue, while maintaining all necessary controls, and perhaps the time has come for some kind of public funding for the main parties on a basis of equity.

Otherwise the suspicions of "cash for access" to, and influence over, senior politicians and policy-makers will continue to linger.

The world of politics is complex in the corridors of power, and there are always people who are prepared to pay big money for special favours, as the disgraceful behaviour of certain politicians in the Republic has demonstrated recently.

Politics at Westminster has had its own scandals over the MPs' expenses. Now there is an opportunity for the politicians to come forward with a workable and transparent structure to provide proper party funding for everyone.

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