Wednesday, 25 February 2015

DUP again block transparency on political donations

Yet again the DUP have voted against transparency on political donations by voting against a motion I presented at North and Ards District Shadow Council Governance Committee last Thursday night which called on the Secretary of State to end the anonymity for individuals making large donations to political parties. DUP Councillors present did not speak to explain their position and sat in silence whilst debate and vote occured. The motion will now go the full shadow Council early next month.

Donations over £7,500 from a single source to a political party are made public in the rest of the UK; however in Northern Ireland this information is not currently published. Naomi Long secured an amendment at Westminster in 2013 that will mean that at some point in the future, any such donation made since January 2014 will be published, but the Secretary of State has not indicated when this will happen.

I was very disappointed that DUP Councillors voted against this motion with complete, absolute and total silence on reasons why. If we are to improve the levels of trust and confidence in the political system then we need to let the public know who is funding our political parties. If we do not lift the veil of secrecy, then suspicion and mistrust will only fester among the public.



With Councillors receiving extra powers around planning from April, there is an even greater need to ensure there is transparency around political donations. The public have a right to know when Councillors will be making decisions on planning issues that involves individuals who have made large donations to their party.

I was very pleased that Naomi Long's amendment on political donations was passed in Westminster in 2013 and hope that the Secretary of State will urgently work to allow the publication of large donations. We cannot on one hand tell businesses that Northern Ireland is a good place to invest in, yet say that the security situation prevents the publication of political donations.

Motion
That this Council notes that current arrangements in Northern Ireland do not permit publication of information concerning who has made donations or loans to political parties above current UK wide thresholds, agrees to write to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland requesting an end to the anonymity provided whilst also requesting the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland explores how public confidence in the new Planning set-up could be strengthened by enabling publication of details concerning land or properties which the donor or lender has an financial interest in if such land or properties are likely to be affected by a Planning Application or Area Plan decision due to be taken by a Local Authority in Northern Ireland or the Department for the Environment.

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