Currently, whilst large donations to NI parties are declared to the Electoral Commission, they are not published as in GB, so the public have no access to or ability to scrutinise this information. Donor information currently cannot be published by the Commission even in anonymised form, such is the lack of transparency.
The amendment will mean that any donation of £7,500 or over from a single source to a political party from January 2014 will be subject to publication at the point when the Secretary of State determines the security situation permits the current exception for Northern Ireland to end. The next review of this exemption is due in October 2014.
The original amendment tabled by Naomi was supported by all the NI parties represented in the House of Commons, but defeated by Government with Labour abstaining. After the vote Naomi wrote to the leaders of the 3 main parties, urging them to reconsider and also encouraged the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee to write to the NIO Ministers in support of the measure.
Naomi Long MP has campaigned since her election to Westminster to see all such donations made public at the earliest opportunity. Alliance already voluntarily publishes that donor information on its website.
She has now co-signed the Government amendment to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which will be debated on Monday.
Naomi Long MP said: “This is the first step towards making the political donations process more transparent. I am extremely pleased that we have won the argument on this issue with the Government. It is a great victory for improving democracy and transparency in Northern Ireland.
“By passing this amendment, the Government is not undermining the Secretary of State’s ability to decide when the security situation will permit this information to be made public, but it ensures that from January 2014, parties, donors and the public will know that those donations will eventually be published and scrutinised, which should help build confidence going forward. Permanent anonymity for donors will be at an end.
“The Electoral Commission have indicated their support for the amendment. They have carried out a series of surveys that showed that a significant proportion of the public are concerned about the lack of openness, so I am pleased that the Government have made a u-turn on this issue.
“I believe that the public in Northern Ireland should have access to the same information as people in the rest of the UK about how political parties are funded and who their major donors are. Whilst I am disappointed that they have not gone further, this is a small but significant step in that direction.
“I do not believe that security concerns should automatically outweigh the right of the public to see this information, a view shared by the former Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Christopher Kelly, in his evidence to the Committee. Increasingly in Northern Ireland there is a perception that politics operates for the benefit of the few, rather than the many. The only way to dispel that perception and rebuild confidence is to allow the public to see who the major donors are and judge for themselves whether that influences policy and decisions.
“Alliance will continue to voluntarily publish our donations on our website and would encourage other parties to do the same.”