Northern Ireland news

Charity Commission publish statement warning charities not to engage in political activity ahead of general election

A letter urging the UUP's Steve Aiken not to stand a candidate in north Belfast was signed by a number of charities. Picture by Matt Bohill.

THE Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has published a statement on its website warning charities not to break charity law by participating in political activity ahead of next month's general election.

The statement comes after the commission sent letters to members of a number of charities based in north Belfast who had signed a letter urging the Ulster Unionist Party not to field a candidate in the constituency.

The letter, signed by 25 people, some representing community and residents groups, called on UUP leader Steve Aiken to give DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds a free run against Sinn Féin.

The letter stated there was "strong opposition" to splitting the unionist vote in the constituency where Mr Dodds is seeking to retain his Westminster seat against the challenge of John Finucane, and called on Mr Aiken to put 'country before party.'

Mr Aiken had previously said he would stand candidates in all 18 constituencies but backed down after the letter was published in a Belfast newspaper.

It is understood the Charity Commission has written to all least four registered charities whose representatives signed the letter.

In a statement published on the commission's website yesterday charities were urged "not to do anything that undermines their independence and neutrality when it comes to party politics".

"With an election set for Thursday 12 December 2019, the rapid nature of the campaign will leave little time for reflection, meaning that charities should review the Commission’s guidance as soon as possible, particularly if they engage politically", the commission stated.

The activity charities were advised not to participate in included: "Supporting or opposing a political party or politician, verbally or financially, endorsing a political party based on one policy position.

"Participating in or running events to which all candidates or parties have not been invited, sharing party political social media posts using official charity social media channels, or too closely echoing the language or slogans employed by political parties".

Charities were also advised not to hire out venues to political parties at a non-commercial rate, or allow charity trustees, staff or members who may also be elected representatives or party activists access to charity assets for political purposes.

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