Belfast Telegraph

Plan to publish party donations in NI does not go far enough, says electoral chief


By Rebecca Black

A pledge to publish details of donations to political parties here is not good enough, the head of the Electoral Commission has said.

Unlike in the rest of the UK, the names of donors are not made public in Northern Ireland for security reasons.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire is due to bring forward legislation that will permit the publication of donations worth more than £7,500.

The UK Government said: "The legislation is currently at an advanced stage of drafting and will be brought before Parliament shortly."

But Electoral Commission head Ann Watt said that although this would bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, it was not enough.

"I think there is an argument that parties in Northern Ireland are much smaller than certainly the major parties in Great Britain, so there may be a case to be made for lowering that threshold," Ms Watt told The Detail website.

In February the DUP confirmed it had received a Brexit campaign donation of around £435,000 from a group of pro-Union business people led by a member of the Conservative Party.

At the time party leader Arlene Foster declined to reveal the identity of the donor or donors, but said the money was properly accounted for "under the rules as they currently stand".

Former Justice Minister David Ford told the Belfast Telegraph he was disappointed that under the proposed legislation only donations made after July 2017 will be disclosed.

"Regardless of the threshold it remains extremely disappointing that once exemptions are finally lifted, only donations from July 1, 2017, will be made public," he said.

"We would again urge James Brokenshire to legislate to allow for the publication of all donations since January 1, 2014, finally lifting the shroud of secrecy that surrounds this issue.

"No party should have anything to hide in how they are funded, which is why the Alliance Party already voluntarily publishes its donations, in line with GB rules, and have done so for years."

The Green Party also voluntarily publishes donations o fmore than £500. In the 2016 list, the biggest donation it received was from leader Steven Agnew (£5,552.59).

The UK Government said there were no plans to change the £7,500 threshold at present, but added it "would be happy to consider any recommendations from the Electoral Commission and/or political parties on this issue".

The Detail also revealed that almost £1m more was spent at the last two Assembly elections -in March 2017 and May 2016 - than was previously reported.

The Electoral Commission publishes information on how much political parties spend during election campaigns, but these figures do not include money given by the parties to their individual candidates.

At the beginning of the summer it published findings that political parties spent a total of £150,080 as part of their March 2017 Assembly election campaign.

However, the new figures compiled by The Detail show that the 90 elected candidates spent a further £407,611 during the same election.

Adding these two figures together brings the total expenditure at the March 2017 Assembly election to over £500,000.

The combined expenditure for parties and elected candidates at the May 2016 Assembly election came to £909,188.

This means that more than £1.4m was spent by political parties and their elected candidates at the last two Stormont elections.

Belfast Telegraph

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