Belfast Telegraph

Lords back law to reveal names of Northern Ireland party donors - Peer suggests DUP received 'Russian money'

By Trevor Mason, PA

Peers have backed legislation to publish the names of major political donors in Northern Ireland despite demands that it should be backdated to 2014.

Northern Ireland minister Lord Duncan of Springbank said an Order allowing publication of all donations and loans received by Northern Ireland political parties after July 2017 would establish transparency and boost confidence in the electoral process.

But the Liberal Democrats said the move should be backdated to 2014 and party member Lord Tyler warned there was "continuing suspicion of a case of very serious political money laundering".

He said the basic facts were not in dispute. "The DUP received a sum approaching half a million pounds from an undisclosed source for its campaign in the 2016 EU referendum."

Despite supporting Leave, the DUP chose to spend £425,000 paying for a wrap around advert in the Metro newspaper "targeted at electors on this side of the Irish Sea".

Labour has claimed the Government's failure to backdate the naming of political donors in Northern Ireland was a bid to mask a huge Brexit-backing donation to the DUP.

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith alleged late last year that the decision to publish donations from 2017 onward, rather than exercising the power to backdate to 2014, meant the £435,000 donation to the DUP during the 2016 referendum campaign would not be covered by the law change.

Lord Tyler asked in the Lords if it was a "complete coincidence that the ministerial decision to restrict the retrospectivity to carefully avoid any reference to this transaction came just days after the Government had to pay a price for DUP support in the Commons having lost its majority".

He asked if it was part of the deal and whether the Northern Ireland Secretary had been briefed on the "potentially illegal donation that was involved" and whether it had been made "through any intermediary".

Lord Tyler said: "We now know the Russians took a considerable interest in the outcome of our referendum. Perhaps it was Russian money that was being channelled by this means."

Lord Browne of Belmont, a DUP peer, said the donation to the DUP from the Constitutional Research Council (CRC), a little-known Great Britain-based group of pro-union business figures, was declared.

"The uses to which the money was put were fully disclosed to the Electoral Commission which accepted the bona fides of the Council."

Lord Browne said retrospective legislation was acceptable only in exceptional circumstances and it was not fair to reveal the identities of those who made donations on the assumption of the law as it stood at the time.

Lord Duncan said only the Alliance party had wanted to see the Order backdated to 2014 in a consultation with Northern Ireland's political parties.

By establishing transparency now, the Government was "not ruling out the re-examination of that period that precedes July 1 2017".

He said the Order allowed consideration of this, adding: "We won't rule anything in or out on that point."

The data had been gathered from 2014 and would remain in place. "If it determined we should examine that in greater detail going forward there is an opportunity for us to re-visit this item itself."

The Transparency of Donations and Loans (Northern Ireland Political Parties) Order 2018 was approved without a vote.

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