Belfast Telegraph

Too much secrecy over funding of political parties, says watchdog

By Noel McAdam

An official watchdog has warned that too much secrecy remains over funding of political parties in Northern Ireland.

The Electoral Commission repeated its call for the Government to bring the rules governing parties in the province into line with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Ongoing security concerns mean that the identities of large donors to the parties are still kept under wraps.

Earlier this year, the Northern Ireland Office said that the then Secretary of State Theresa Villiers was committed to ensuring the "maximum level of transparency" that the security situation allows.

Party incomes - which went up across the board by almost £200,000 last year - are accrued from official grants and membership subscriptions, as well as from financial donations.

According to the latest figures released by the Commission, Sinn Fein was again the richest party last year, raising £1.1m and spending £1.2m. The party has an extensive fundraising network in the United States.

But its total declared 2015 income of £1,162,851 was down slightly on its 2014 level and the party admitted spending more than £50,000 in the region above the amount it had raised.

The DUP's expenditure was nearly £22,000 less than its income.

The party raised £533,682 in 2015, which was up from £482,370 the previous year. Like Sinn Fein, the SDLP spent more than £50,000 above the total it raised, but the party also saw its income increase by more than £100,000 - from £440,344 in 2014 to £543,704 in 2015.

The UUP raised £412,805 in 2015, which was a significant increase on its 2014 total of £342,642.

The period reported on by the parties covered the 2015 Westminster election.

Amount raised by Sinn Fein last year, maintaining its position as richest political party in Northern Ireland

The figure raised by the DUP in 2015, a healthy rise on the £482,370 the party brought in the previous year

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