Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein tops the poll with £330k funding

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein received £331,000 in private donations and public funding in the second half of last year - much more than the DUP's £290,000, according to figures published yesterday by the Electoral Commission.

Both parties were well ahead of their rivals - with the SDLP receiving £51,500 and the Ulster Unionists £48,500 from July until December 2017.

Alliance received £45,500; the Greens £25,000; People Before Profit £20,000, and the TUV £13,000.

Alliance received two donations of £7,500 from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll donated to his own party, as many Sinn Fein MLAs did to theirs.

Unlike Great Britain, the identity of party donors here has historically remained secret due to concerns over security. But new regulations approved by Parliament have changed that for donations and loans over £7,500 dating from last July.

Labour and others had argued that the donations published should go back to July 2014, which would include those made during the 2016 EU referendum campaign. That would cover a controversial £435,000 donation from the Constitutional Research Council to the DUP, spent on pro-Brexit advertising.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said yesterday's figures made for "fascinating reading" with "some incredible sums of money swirling around". He said: "There is a phenomenal disparity in the amounts of public funding that are going to various parties.

"This publication is a key step forward but it is more important than ever that the publication of party donations goes back to 2014 as was originally envisaged in the law, in order to allay public fears over so-called dark money.

"It should not need to be underlined that the electoral system is based on one person, one vote - rather than one pound, one vote. That is why we must take every precaution to monitor both income and election spending to ensure fairness."

A DUP spokesman said his party welcomed the increased transparency and had supported it. "This brings us into line with the rest of the UK in all but the acceptance of foreign donations," he said.

"We comply fully with the law governing donations to the Northern Ireland political parties.

"With regard to Brexit referendum, the DUP voluntarily published details about that donation in the same way which the Electoral Commission would."

Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission, noted that for 10 years the organisation had been prohibited from publishing information it held on the donations and loans parties here received.

"We are delighted we are now able to provide the public with information," she said.

"Transparency is an essential component to increasing public confidence in the democratic process. To further enhance this transparency we will continue to urge the UK Government to bring forward legislation that will enable us to publish the information we hold on donations and loans dating back to January 2014."

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