Call for more transparency around political donations

James Brokenshire pledged to move quickly to provide greater transparency around political donations. Picture by David Young/PA Wire

JAMES Brokenshire is coming under pressure to fulfil a pre-election pledge to move "quickly" to provide greater transparency around political donations in the north.

As he launched the NI Conservative's manifesto a fortnight ago, the secretary of state said disclosure around who was supporting parties in the region would help re-inject confidence into the political system.

"I firmly believe it is in Northern Ireland's interests to see that that is taken forward quickly," he said.

"As an incoming Conservative government, if we are re-elected, I do see that as important in re-injecting a sense of confidence in our political system here in Northern Ireland."

Revelations around a £425,000 donation to the DUP which bankrolled an expensive four-page Vote Leave advertisement in the British Metro newspaper last June brought the issue of political donors to the fore during the election campaign.

The money was given to the DUP by a shadowy pro-union group called the Constitutional Research Council. However, it is not clear how the group, chaired by former vice chairman of the Scottish Conservatives Richard Cook, raised the funds.

Historically, the names of political donors to the north's parties have been kept under wraps for security reasons but advocates of greater transparency argue such restrictions are no longer necessary.

SDLP assembly member Claire Hanna said her party had written to Mr Brokenshire highlighting how the circumstances that prevented the disclosure of political donations in the past no longer applied. She said the secretary of state should set the date after which party donations should be published.

"We are now a year on from the DUP receiving almost half a million pounds to influence the damaging outcome of the Brexit referendum, which has still not being adequately explained," she said.

"This issue will be particularly pertinent if the DUP are seen to be able to influence British government policy."

Ms Hanna said her party had tabled a number of proposals on how transparency and the donations regime could be enhanced.

"The SDLP has also called for a full and comprehensive review of funding for political parties to include a further restriction on large corporate donations and a system of transparent state funding, similar to those used in other jurisdictions, and which could help reduce the undue influence of cash on the democratic process," she said.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said the secretary of state had the power to enact a legislative amendment which enables the source of donations going back to 2014 to be revealed.

"Any failure by the secretary of state to act to deliver maximum transparency will simply add weight to the notion the government is incapable of acting impartially in respect of their prospective partners," she said.


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