Belfast Telegraph

Proposals to reform Northern Ireland political donation secrecy laws delayed once again


Plans to lift the ban on publishing the names of donors to political parties in Northern Ireland have been delayed.

Last year the British Government pledged to end secrecy over donations to parties here by the autumn of 2017.

The Detail has revealed the Electoral Commission will publish information on money donated to political parties in each part of the UK, apart from Northern Ireland.

On Thursday the commission is set to publish details of all political donations received throughout the UK between October and December 2017.

However, a delay in implementing new legislation has meant the commission can still not publish the information for Northern Ireland.

Legislation must work its way through both houses of the UK parliament before the reforms can be imposed. The House of Lords will not debate the matter until February 27.

Currently the identity of political donors is not published in Northern Ireland for security reasons.

In November last year the Electoral Commission said it was “extremely disappointed” it was unable to publish information on Northern Ireland political donations despite previous assurances by the British Government that it would lift the ban in Autumn 2017.

After the criticism the Transparency Order 2018 was presented to parliament, which began the process of changing the legislation.

If the legislation passes both houses of parliament, only donations received by political parties over £7,500 from July 1 2017 onwards will be affected.

Meanwhile, emails obtained by The Detail appear to show a disagreement between the DUP’s director of policy and the Electoral Commission over the timing of its criticism of the delay in lifting the donor ban in Northern Ireland.

In an email sent by Lee Reynolds, who is also DUP group leader at Belfast City Council, to the commission he said: “The timing of this is politically dubious only two days before our party conference. This seems to [be] developing into a pattern of behaviour by the Electoral Commission i.e its release of information about the DUP during the Assembly campaign.”

Councillor Reynolds was referring to an incident where the DUP had argued against the commission releasing details on its Brexit campaign expenditure ahead of the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections in March 2017.

In an email responding to Councillor Reynolds, head of the Electoral Commission Ann Watt, said: “Lee, I was surprised by your email to [redacted] earlier, and disappointed by the allegation in it about the Electoral Commission. There was no mention of the DUP in our media statement.”

She added: “We are obliged under the law to publish donation and loan data as soon as reasonably practicable after receiving the returns.”

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