18/01/2011

Political Donors' Identities Remain Protected

The individuals and companies behind party political donations in the North are to remain 'secret'.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said on Monday that the deteriorating security situation meant donors still needed to be protected.

However, Sinn Fein has said the decision will contribute to "justifiable public cynicism" about political transparency a view that proved to be the reverse of that of the DUP who aid security considerations were "paramount".

Yesterday, NIO Minister of State, Hugo Swire published the Government's response to the public consultation on the confidentiality arrangements that apply to donations and loans to Northern Ireland political parties.

The consultation closed in October with a total of 26 responses received.

He said that having considered the responses he concluded that legislation should be brought forward to ensure that the identities of donors and lenders should continue to be kept confidential for a further two years.

"The Government will however explore during this time whether modifications can be made to the current arrangements to provide for increased transparency and will bring forward further legislation if necessary to achieve this," said a statement.

"I recognise and support the desire for full transparency in politics and on the funding of political parties in particular.

"But I accept with regret that there remain concerns in Northern Ireland about intimidation which makes it difficult to achieve this. I will therefore bring forward secondary legislation to ensure that donor identities in Northern Ireland remain protected until 2013.

"I also believe that there is a case for greater transparency in the current system and we will continue to examine the possibility of bringing forward further legislation to achieve this," he concluded.

The Sinn Fein MP for West Tyrone Pat Doherty immediately called for an end to the policy of keeping donations to political parties secret and called for the current threshold of £7,500 for reportable donations to be lowered to £500.

"Each year Sinn Fein publishes the party's financial statements for both the North and the South. We do this in line with party policy on the issue and in the interests of transparency and openness.

"Like all organisations political parties need sufficient income to cover their expenditure. The general public understands that fundraising and donations are part and parcel of generating that income," he said.

"Justifiable public cynicism is generated when it is perceived that political parties are not being open and transparent about their financial affairs.

"Vested interests being allowed to secretly contribute to political parties does a disservice to politics in general. It is a practice that needs to be brought to an end. Sinn Fein does not receive any corporate donations."

While the DUP's Strangford MLA Simon Hamilton said changes to the legislation would potentially have a negative impact on individuals' security, the East Belfast Alliance MP Naomi Long has no such concerns.

She said the Alliance Party supports proposals to increase the transparency of political donations: "Why should the people of Northern Ireland not be afforded the same level of transparency regarding donations made to their political parties as people in other parts of the UK?

"Politicians should be doing all they can to improve public confidence in politics and being open about donors would be a significant step forward.

"Public confidence in their elected representatives has been eroded by a number of scandals in recent years, and this was an opportunity to contribute to rebuilding trust.

"It is incredibly disappointing," she concluded.

(BMcC/KMcA)

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