Belfast Telegraph

DUP calls for foreign donations to Sinn Fein to be made public

By Jonathan Bell

The DUP has called for the disclosures of political donations to Northern Ireland parties to go further and to include funds received from overseas.

However, MP Sammy Wilson rejected there was a need for the disclosures to be backdated to 2014 saying those that had donated up until July this year had done so based on the assumption their names would be kept secret.

The names of political donors in Northern Ireland have long been kept confidential due to security concerns during the Troubles.

The Government is now pushing ahead with legislation that would see the names of individuals or organisations who donate more than £7,500 to political parties after July 1 2017 being made public. For donations to politicians that figure is £1,500.

During a Westminster committee hearing on Tuesday an amendment to backdate the disclosure to July 2014 was narrowly defeated. The bill to publish the donations will go before the Lords in January with the details expected to be published soon after.

However, following the committee hearing Sammy Wilson took a swipe at Sinn Fein, saying its foreign donations should be a matter of public record in the UK.

"The DUP supports the move towards transparency of political donations in Northern Ireland. We support the proposals brought forward by the government, but they do not go far enough," he said.

"Some people are claiming that the provisions will bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. This is simply untrue. In order to accommodate Sinn Fein there will still remain the ability for parties in Northern Ireland to receive foreign donations. This is a provision which does not apply anywhere else in the United Kingdom and will only benefit one political party.

"We have already had meetings with the Minister to demand that, any follow-up to this bill must extend to barring foreign donations in Northern Ireland."

Sinn Fein, however, said its donations from America and over $50 were on record with the US Department of Justice and which had been reported "extensively" in Britain and Ireland, the party said.

It also said if the DUP was "serious about transparency" it would disclose the "facts" surrounding the the £435,000 donation to the DUP during the 2016 referendum campaign.

"If the DUP were sincere about transparency they should press their Tory colleagues to back date the publication of donations to January 2014 or put the facts about the Dark Money into the public domain," the party said.

However, responding to the Labour Shadow Secretary of State Owen Smith who described the donation as "shady", Sammy Wilson noted the Electoral Commission was satisfied with the credentials of the Constitutional Research Council, which made the donation, and with the details provided about the donation by the DUP.

The East Antrim MP added: "I find it difficult to see how he describes this money as shady when all of the obligations required under the law were met."

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