Belfast Telegraph

Political donation reforms part of side deal, claims former senior electoral official

By Michael McHugh and David Young, PA

Incomplete reform of the law surrounding donations to political parties in Northern Ireland must be part of the DUP's deal with the Conservatives, a former senior electoral official has claimed.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said details of future gifts are to be published but declined to make the measure retrospective to the start of 2014.

Unlike the rest of the UK, the identities of donors have remained secret historically due to concerns about their security but critics are concerned the veil is harming accountability.

Seamus Magee, a retired head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, which regulates party finances, tweeted: "The deal on party donations and loans must be part of the DUP/Conservative deal. No other explanation."

The DUP has confirmed it received a Brexit donation worth around £435,000 from a group of pro-union business people.

The money from the Constitutional Research Council was spent on pro-Brexit advertising throughout the UK.

Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill criticised Mr Brokenshire.

"He's also taken a very crass decision, I think, in relation - which probably points to a side deal with the Tories and the DUP - in relation to political donations."

Mr Brokenshire said there was consensus on the need for greater transparency and the measure was in his party's General Election manifesto.

"I can confirm that I intend to bring forward legislation that will provide for the publication of all donations and loans received by Northern Ireland parties on or after the 1st of July 2017."

Sinn Fein receives funding from donors abroad, particularly in the US.

At Westminster the DUP's Sir Jeffrey Donaldson questioned Mr Brokenshire on donations routed via the Republic of Ireland to political parties operating in Northern Ireland, meaning Sinn Fein.

Mr Brokenshire said the issue "would remain under consideration".

The Northern Ireland Secretary also defended not applying the laws retrospectively, saying the move was more about compliance with the regulations and this would be the best way of achieving it.

The Alliance Party's David Ford accused Mr Brokenshire of offering "feeble excuses".

"At a time when there is such deep cynicism in this society about the political process, his failure to address that issue properly can only enhance that suspicion and that cynicism.

"We need to see openness, we need to see full transparency and we need to see Parliament backdating that to January 1 2014."

Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, said she expected the first donation and loan report to be published in the autumn.

"We would also like to see the necessary legislation put in place, as soon as possible, to allow us to publish details of donations and loans received since January 2014.

"Such a move will only help to further enhance today's positive announcement on future transparency."

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