Northern Ireland news

Watchdog 'shares frustration' over DUP's Brexit donation transparency

The Metro wraparound Brexit ads paid for with a donation to the DUP

THE Electoral Commission has said it shares the "frustration" over a lack of transparency, amid a planned legal challenge over not investigating a DUP's Brexit campaign donation.

The watchdog was responding yesterday to a barrister's plans to seek a judicial review over the commission's decision not to investigate the £435,000 payment.

Jolyon Maugham of the Good Law Project said the decision not to investigate the donation made during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign was "utterly inexplicable".

Some £282,000 of the money purchased a wraparound advert in the London-based Metro newspaper.

The donation was received from the Constitutional Research Council (CRC), which has been described as a group of pro-union business figures.

A BBC Spotlight programme claimed the donation raised questions over whether the DUP treasurer Gregory Campbell had checked the permissibility of the donation from CRC.

But the Electoral Commission later said it would not investigate the allegations contained in the film.

However, in a statement yesterday the Electoral Commission said it had written to the Good Law Project regarding the proposed judicial review.

"With limited exceptions, this legislation prevents us from disclosing any information relating to such donations, which means we cannot publicly detail the steps we took as part of our assessment," it said.

"We share the Good Law Project's frustration at this lack of transparency.

"Transparency is central to public confidence in our political finance system.

"We have consistently called for greater transparency around political finance in Northern Ireland and continue to urge the UK government to extend the transparency rules to cover donations made from 2014.

"This would cover a period of intense electoral activity, taking in two UK parliamentary general elections, two Northern Ireland Assembly elections, EU and local government elections and the EU referendum.

"As with the political donations regime in the rest of the UK, for Northern Ireland donations we ensure donation reports are quickly and thoroughly verified.

"Any offences identified at this stage are assessed to the highest standard.

"While the disclosure restrictions remain in place, we will always go as far as the law allows us in sharing donation and loan information that is provided to us in order to give voters confidence in the system."

The DUP has denied wrongdoing and always insisted it acted within electoral law.

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