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Donations data could be available within weeks after legislation laid at Westminster

James Brokenshire pledged to relax secrecy around political donations. Picture by Mark Marlow/PA Wire

NEW rules relaxing transparency around political donations in Northern Ireland are expected to be introduced at Westminster in the coming weeks.

Legislation was laid before MPs yesterday that would see the publication of donations greater than £7,500 made after July 12 this year. It will be debated in the near future, signalling the release of the information early in the new year.

The move came after the Northern Ireland Electoral Commission yesterday issued a strongly-worded statement criticising the lack of progress on the issue.

The names of political donors in Northern Ireland have long been kept confidential due to security concerns dating back to the Troubles.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire announced in July his intent to lift the veil of anonymity on donations, which had been a pledge in the Conservative Party's Northern Ireland general election manifesto.

But the head of the Electoral Commission in the north voiced frustration that Mr Brokenshire's vow had not yet become law.

Ann Watt said she had expected to be in a position to publish the first set of data on regional donations yesterday as similar information was released in Britain.

"We are extremely disappointed that we are unable to provide the public with the information they expected on how political parties in Northern Ireland are funded," she said.

"The continuing secrecy only serves to undermine trust and confidence amongst the public in the democratic process."

Ms Watt said the commission was consulted by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) "several months ago" on draft legislation and provided detailed comments.

"In our view, the legislation is ready to be laid in parliament now," she said.

Hours after her statement, the House of Commons confirmed that the legislation had been laid and would be moved in the coming weeks.

Ms Watt later welcomed the move.

"We are pleased that the UK government has acted to make this important change a reality," she said.

"Transparency in how our political parties are funded is key to ensuring public trust and confidence in the democratic process."

A statement from the NIO said support for full transparency was widespread.

"There has been a welcome recognition by the political parties of the importance of transparency to the broader political process and confidence in the democratic process," the statement said.

"In line with that aim, we have brought secondary legislation before parliament that would provide for the publication of all donations and loans received by Northern Ireland parties."

Mr Brokenshire has already faced criticism for declining to exercise his legislative ability to backdate publication of donation details to the start of 2014.

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