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NI's top parties spent more than they earned in 2016

The DUP spent twice as much on hospitality last year as Sinn Fein did on its 'uniting Ireland' department, according to figures released by the Electoral Commission.

The DUP spent almost £15,400 on hospitality in 2016 while Sinn Fein spent just £7,420 on its uniting Ireland department.

Sinn Fein received donations of £700,500 compared to £528,000 for the DUP.

The republican party spent considerably more on wages (£551,000) than Mrs Foster's party (£118,000). It also spent substantially more on travel (£68,000) than the DUP (£1,100). The DUP travel expenditure fell significantly in 2016 - it had spent almost seven times that amount the previous year.

Sinn Fein emerged by far as the wealthiest and biggest spending party in Northern Ireland with £1.18m in income and £1.25m expenditure.

The DUP was next with an income of £792,000 and expenditure of £858,000.

The UUP was the third wealthiest with an income of £477,000 and expenditure of £581,000.

The SDLP spent £379,000 - £60,000 more than its income. Alliance spent £279,000 with an income of £265,000. Northern Ireland's five largest parties all spent more than they earned last year.

All parties earning over £250,000 must provide the Electoral Commission with audited accounts.

The combined total income for all the parties increased by £384,000 in 2016 compared to the previous year and their spending rose by over £700,000.

The increase is largely due to an Assembly election being held in May 2016. The Brexit referendum also entailed costs although some parties devoted more resources to it than others.

Sinn Fein spent considerably more on its international department (£52,000) than on its Press office (£7,700). It spent £28,000 on security costs.

The DUP's conference income was down from £58,000 to £44,000 and its membership subscriptions almost halved in 2016 (£11,000) from the previous year (£21,000).

The deadline for Northern Ireland's political parties to submit accounts was July 7, 2016, and Alliance failed to deliver an auditor's report of its accounts.

The commission said it would consider this failure "in line with its established enforcement policy".

Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, said: "The availability of these accounts is important for the transparency of political finance outside of election campaigns.

"People should be able to see how parties raise and spend money and be assured that their accounting is accurate and assessed by an independent auditor."

In Britain, the Labour Party spent £15m more than the Conservatives last year. Accounts for Jeremy Corbyn's party show it took in £49,840,000 and spent £43,324,000 nationally in 2016. 

The figures are well ahead of the amount for the Conservatives, who spent £27,756,000 and brought in £28,303,000. 

Labour's annual income dipped from its record of more than £51m in 2015, while the Tories saw a large drop from income of almost £42m and expenditure of £41m. 

Belfast Telegraph