Long disappointed at donor rule change block

East Belfast MP Naomi Long has expressed disappointment and said the Northern Ireland public’s desire for increased transparency has been frustrated after MPs blocked her proposed amendment which would have seen the rules around the anonymity of political donors here changed.

The Alliance MP today (Tuesday) put forward the amendment in the House of Commons, which was designed to ensure any donation made after January 2014 would be made subject to publication once the Secretary of State determined the security situation permitted it but it was defeated 294 votes to 16. She also supported a further amendment which would have removed the Secretary of State’s discretion to extend the period of anonymity beyond October 2014, which was not pressed to a vote.

Currently, donations to parties over £7,500 from a single source are made public in the UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland, where the information is seen only by the Electoral Commission and not published even in anonymised form due to the security risk. Alliance voluntarily publishes that donor information on its website.

Mrs Long’s amendment was supported by the Electoral Commission and would have ensured clarity for donors, who would know with certainty that donations made after 1 January 2014 would eventually be published once the Secretary of State felt the security risk allowed, and would have provided certainty and reassurance to the public that, whilst they may not be able to see those donations immediately, they would eventually have the right to scrutinise them, potentially as soon as soon as October 2014.

Mrs Long said the adding of her amendment to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill would have been a vital move in terms of creating more public confidence in the donations system which she argued was particularly crucial in light of recent allegations of corruption in local politics.

“The lack of transparency on the issue of donations is a running sore in Northern Ireland political life, creating the public perception that influence with local parties can be bought. This has been brought into sharper focus by recent allegations and whilst only a full, independent inquiry will get to the truth of that situation, the growing perception that politics operates for the benefit of the few who have deep pockets is utterly corrosive to the political system and public support for it.

“This amendment would have been an important step to giving clarity to the political donations process, accelerating the pace of change towards full transparency and assuring the public that the only question remaining is when they will see those details and not whether.

“There is always a focus on the threat posed by terrorism when we debate the reason for non-publication of donors and that is understandable. I would never seek to be dismissive or cavalier about those concerns; however, we cannot in changed circumstances continue credibly to promote Northern Ireland as safe and stable for investment and tourism and, at the same time argue the threat is so grave that we must deviate from normal democratic scrutiny of party funding.

“Neither should such threats automatically outweigh the wider principles of transparency and accountability. We should also bear in mind that lack of public trust and confidence in politics and politicians is also a potent threat to any democracy. I hope the Government will reconsider given the support of all of the Northern Ireland parties in the House of Commons for my amendment and seek to amend the Bill in the House of Lords.”

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