Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein top spenders for Assembly elections but polls taking toll on parties' finances

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein spent over twice as much as the DUP in the snap Assembly election in March, according to figures released by the Electoral Commission.

But most of Northern Ireland's parties seem seriously cash-strapped, with nine of them spending a total of £150,080 in the poll, compared with almost £344,000 in the May 2016 Assembly election.

Both unionist and nationalist politicians last night told the Belfast Telegraph that contesting so many elections in a short time-frame had put pressure on party finances.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said that local parties had to "cut our cloth according to our means".

SDLP MLA John Dallat admitted that his party had campaigned "on a shoestring budget".

In March's election, the DUP emerged marginally ahead of Sinn Fein on 28.1% of the vote and 28 seats, compared to its rivals' 27.9% vote and 27 seats.

Although only 1,168 votes separated the big two parties, Sinn Fein spent £46,591 campaigning - making it the highest spender of all the parties - while the DUP was only the fourth highest spender on £21,929.

Sinn Fein almost matched its spending in May 2016 (£53,243) whereas the DUP's spending was only a quarter of its total in the election 10 months earlier (£89,439).

Alliance appears to be in a healthy financial state. The party was the second highest spender in the March election after Sinn Fein on £32,456, just slightly down from the £37,554 it spent in the 2016 Stormont poll.

The UUP spent almost £5,000 more than the DUP in this year's Assembly election (£26,443) but that was only 28% of what it spent in the poll 10 months earlier.

In the May 2016 election, the UUP was the highest spending of all Northern Ireland's parties, allocating £95,855 to campaigning.

Of the five big parties, the SDLP spent the least in the March poll (£14,971) which was just 29% of what it had spent in the 2016 election (£51,736).

East Londonderry MLA John Dallat said: "The SDLP has no large financial backers. It would have been unfair for us to go back to the same people who had given so generously for the 2016 election and ask for more money a few months later.

"So in March our campaign was very different. It was run on a shoestring."

Robin Swann said: "Having so many elections in such a short space of time obviously puts pressure on all parties' finances and that is reflected in the overall spend.

"We have to cut our cloth according to our means. Many candidates were able to re-use their election posters, which helped.

"I hope that, in future, elections are more spaced out in Northern Ireland and that politicians can get down to doing the job we've been elected to do."

The biggest spend for all parties in the election was on advertising, at £61,000, with campaign broadcasts next on £37,000.

Alliance paid out the biggest single amount. The party paid £15,000 to one advertising firm, while the smallest amount paid out was again for advertising - this time for the UUP at a cost of £18.

Jim Allister's TUV spent only £2,724 during the campaign, just ahead of People Before Profit which spent £2,543 and the Greens on £1,493.

Five parties - the TUV, the Workers' Party, the Conservative and Unionist Party, the Cross-Community Labour Alternative, and the Citizens Independent Social Thought Alliance - all submitted their returns late.

The Electoral Commission said that the PUP failed to submit its return. PUP leader Billy Hutchinson told the Belfast Telegraph that his party was trying to clarify the situation.

"There is nothing sinister about it," he said. "We stood only three candidates. It is our understanding that our treasurer did submit returns to the Electoral Commission. We are awaiting clarification on what happened."

Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, said: "We are disappointed that more than a third of the parties submitted their spending returns late or not at all.

"These failures are now being considered in line with the Electoral Commission's enforcement policy."

Belfast Telegraph

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