Belfast Telegraph

All parties must name cash donors

By Steven Agnew

The Green Party believes that party donations should be made public so that voters can see where vested interests lie.

Like it or not, money plays a vital role in democracy. It facilitates collective action by allowing voters to channel their support for parties and candidates, and allows parties and candidates to reach out to voters, encouraging active political participation.

However, this dependency on money can also undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process.

The Electoral Commission recently published the income for political parties in Northern Ireland in 2014.

The figures revealed that Sinn Fein's income was £1.2m, more than double the DUP income of £483,000 and dwarfing the £59,000 income of the Green Party. We might have one person one vote, but with radically divergent budgets, politicians are not competing on a level playing field.

Of course the size of funds is not the only issue. Where funding comes from is also significant.

Many are concerned that politicians are more responsive to the interests of their donors than to the wider public. To what extent are government decisions, for example, unfairly influenced by the fact that the Conservative Party draws as much as half of its funding from bankers?

The British public have the luxury of such scrutiny because political parties in Britain are obliged to publish the names of anyone who donates more than £7,500. In Northern Ireland, however, no such obligation exists and a veil of secrecy hangs over sources of political donations.

This lack of transparency is toxic when it comes to fostering public trust, fuelling suspicion when allegations of corruption rise to the surface, not least in the wake of the recent Nama story, in which it was alleged £7m in an offshore account was linked to a local politician.

The Green Party has repeatedly called for greater transparency in political donations, endeavouring to lead by example by publishing all donations received over £500.

True democracy and faith in local politics can only be achieved if citizens are clear about who is funding politicians and are satisfied that decisions are being made solely for the common good.

Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party NI

Belfast Telegraph


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