Alliance Leader David Ford has claimed that Government advice could encourage parties and Council candidates to break the law over election expenses. He has advised his party members not to trust anything said by Ministers.
David Ford said:
“In an Order which comes into effect today, the amount which Council candidates may spend in England and Wales is being increased substantially. In a ward of 5,000 electors, the limit goes up by 78%. This will make a huge difference to the way parties can campaign.
“As Northern Ireland usually follows suit, I contacted the NIO earlier this week and asked what was happening. After all, the Government’s excuse for changing local polling day was to co-ordinate it with elections in England.
“I was astonished to be phoned back by a civil servant yesterday and told that it is now too late to change the expenses limits before the elections expected on 5 May, but Ministers were considering putting forward legislation to backdate such a change.
“This would amount to Ministers advising candidates that they could break the law by overspending, trusting the Government to change the law afterwards to somehow make this illegal spending legal. This is in total defiance of all the advice on spending issued by the Electoral Commission and the Chief Electoral Officer.
“I am no longer surprised that this Government is playing fast and loose with democracy. After all, Ministers postponed elections to the Assembly twice during the 2003 campaign; they are changing the date of local elections without consultation; and they are adding 80,000 electors to the register, but delaying this to the very day that nominations are likely to
“There are clear signs of either incompetence or political bias in their actions – and probably both.
“But I am horrified that I was told that Ministers are considering encouraging candidates to break the law.
“I shall be contacting the Chief Electoral Officer and the Electoral Commission about this worrying situation.
“However, I have already advised all Alliance candidates and their Election Agents to work to the current legal guidelines and, in no circumstances, to trust anything said by Ministers about their future intentions.”