Northern Ireland news

Calls for publication of backdated political donations as research reveals public scepticism over transparency

The DUP received a donation of £435,000 ahead of the Brexit referendum but the original source of the funding has not been made public

THE BRITISH government has again been urged to allow the publication of backdated information on political donations, including details of almost half-a-million pounds gifted to the DUP ahead of the EU referendum.

The call from the Electoral Commission comes as its own research reveals that most voters want to see political donations from 2014 onwards published.

The watchdog has been backed by Alliance leader Naomi Long, who when an MP spearheaded legislation that for the first time in decades ushered in donor transparency. All donations to Northern Ireland parties of more than £7,500 must be declared.

However, the British government decided to only publish details from July 2017, keeping a lid on donations from the previous three years, including the original source of the DUP's £435,000 of so-called dark money that paid for pro-Brexit ads in Britain.

Recent research conducted by the Electoral Commission in conjunction with the pollster Ipsos MORI highlights a high degree of public scepticism about political donations in the north.

The research found a "strong consensus” that “the current donation thresholds are too high as they would allow individuals or businesses to donate a significant sum without being subject to public scrutiny”.

It concluded that the reporting threshold of £7,500 “constitutes a loophole within the current regime, leaving it vulnerable to corruption".

"This caused the majority to believe that the regime is not transparent," the research said.

"Rather, they view it as a regime that is malleable to the desired political and economic ends of the wealthy and powerful.”

The Electoral Commission's regional head Cahir Hughes told the Open Democracy website that the watchdog continued to push the British government to change the rules, allowing it to publish details of donations from 2014 to 2017.

Mr Hughes said it would "help to improve transparency in the political finance regime and enhance political accountability".

“This research shows that there is still interest in donations made during the 2014-17 period, with the majority of respondents saying that they should be made public,” he said.

Mrs Long said: “It is clear from this report, there is a public appetite for open and transparent information on who funds parties. Without that, allegations of corruption and cronyism will remain, damaging the public confidence in the entire political system.”

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