Currently, donations over £7,500 from a single source to a political party are made public in the rest of the UK; however, while in Northern Ireland the information is given to the Electoral Commission, it is not published even in anonymised form due to concerns about the security risk. The next opportunity for the Secretary of State to review this situation is October 2014. Alliance voluntarily publishes its donor list on its website.
The Alliance MP said the amendments would ensure publication of donations would be brought into line with the rest of the UK as soon as possible. The Bill will already allow the publication of anonymised donor information and for retrospective publication with the permission of the donor as an interim measure; however, Mrs Long’s amendment would ensure that any donation made after 1 January 2014 will be made subject to publication at whatever point the Secretary of State removes the block, making the situation clear for the general public and for donors. The second amendment which she has co-signed would remove the Secretary of State’s discretion to extend the exemption to publication beyond October 2014.
The East Belfast representative added that her proposals would give potential donors the opportunity to decide whether publication of their names was an issue for them before they contributed to political parties here.
“In the past there may have been an argument in favour of protections for donors but we cannot promote Northern Ireland internationally as a safe and stable place for inward investment and tourism, and then continue to deviate from normal democratic scrutiny,” said Mrs Long.
“I am not oblivious to the threats which still exist; however, I share the view of Sir Christopher Kelly, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public, expressed in his evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee that such threats should not automatically outweigh the right of the public to scrutinise how parties are funded or the wider principles of openness, transparency and accountability.
“My amendment would make it clear for the public and for donors that we are moving to openness and transparency and are committed to doing so quickly. It gives the public confidence that any donations made from January onwards will be subject to publication in the future. It also provides clarity for potential donors who can then decide whether or not to donate in light of that fact. I also believe the exemption on publication should not be extended when reviewed in October 2014 and have supported a further amendment to give that effect.
“Trust and confidence from the public in many politicians is currently at a particularly low ebb. For as long as this donor information is secret, people will be suspicious that a small number of donors wield undue influence over political parties’ policy and activity. The only way we can restore confidence is to be transparent about how parties are funded and allow the public to scrutinise that information and make up their own minds about whether such donations influence decision-making.”