Belfast Telegraph

Lift the veil on political donations

By Steven Agnew

There must be transparency around political donations. In a democracy, it is vital voters have full information to make a proper and informed choice.

The recent shocking revelations in the "Panama Papers" demonstrate the lengths to which the rich and powerful will go to hide their activities from public view.

If we do not have full transparency on donations to political parties, we will never know what influencing is happening behind closed doors, what hidden agendas are in play and who is influencing whom.

Do political donations nudge parties towards certain decisions? Unless there is full transparency, we will never know.

I am proud of the fact the Green Party has led the way on transparency on political donations. We voluntarily set the bar - and we set it high. We do not accept corporate donations, ensuring we work for the common good, not for vested interests.

We are also the only party to publish details of every donation of more than £500. Now, it is time for other parties to catch up.

In the UK, the Electoral Commission Group publishes details of all donations of more than £7,500, but in Northern Ireland they are barred from publishing this information.

Some parties now say they are happy to comply with this figure - but is it good enough?

It was gratifying when Belfast City Council supported Green Party councillor Ross Brown in his call for the Secretary of State to implement the 2014 legislation to reveal donations to political parties of more than £7,500.

Indeed, thanks to councillor Brown, the council also called for political parties to go further and voluntarily publish donations of more than £500. The parties that supported that call are yet to match their words with action.

I call on all parties to publish the details of their donors before the election, so that voters can see how their campaigns were funded before they go into the polling booth.

The person who pays the piper calls the tune. In the interests of democracy, we should all know in whose interests political parties are acting.

  • Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

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