DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and UUP all pressed for past political donations to stay secret: claim

All Northern Ireland’s major parties bar Alliance told the Secretary of State their past political donations should be kept under wraps, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

James Brokenshire had been accused of relenting to pressure from the DUP not to reveal details of cash paid to parties in the past three years.

On Monday Mr Brokenshire said details of future donations are to be published starting from this month, but declined to make the measure retrospective to the start of 2014, as was expected.

It prompted accusations that the move had been part of the DUP deal with the Tories.

But a senior Government source last night told the Belfast Telegraph that three other main parties also opposed making donors’ names from 2014 up until now public.

“The Secretary of State wrote to all the parties in January asking them for their views on backdating the publication of donors’ names. Everyone but Alliance said no,” the source said.

Unlike the rest of the UK, the identities of donors to Northern Ireland’s parties have remained secret due to concerns over security.

Critics say such restrictions are now redundant and argue it harms accountability and democracy.

Seamus Magee, retired head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland – the independent body that oversees elections and regulates political finance – was among the critics of the Secretary of State for not backdating donations.

He said Mr Brokenshire must have been persuaded by the DUP not to introduce the measure as part of the pact by Arlene Foster’s party to prop up Theresa May’s Government.

Mr Magee tweeted on Monday: “The deal on party donations and loans must be part of the DUP/Conservative deal. No other explanation.”

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson denied there was any side deal.

He said: “Let me be absolutely clear. I was deeply disappointed to read Seamus Magee’s tweet.

“Totally inaccurate. I hope that Seamus, a man of integrity whom I respect, will take my word for it. There is no side deal on party political donations.”

Despite the revelations, some parties continued to hammer Mr Brokenshire over the issue. Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said the proposals did not “go far enough”.

He added: “The fact that it is only backdated until July 1, 2017, means that it will not cover anything before that date, despite the fact he had the power to backdate it to July 2014.

“This is not good enough and allows the cover-up of the dark money given to the DUP to back Brexit to continue.

“It also raises questions about whether this was an electoral side deal which garnered the DUP’s support in propping up a Tory Government.”

The SDLP said in a statement: “We have nothing to hide. The SDLP wants to see radical reform in party funding where parties finally move away from any reliance on large scale corporate or individual donations.”

UUP councillor Jim Rodgers said the party “supports the law in Northern Ireland operating in exactly the same way as it does in the rest of the United Kingdom”.

He added: “Given the millions of dollars which Sinn Fein have raised in the USA for decades, they are in a particularly weak position when it comes to criticising the actions of others.”

Alliance MLA David Ford said Mr Brokenshire had “bottled it” over transparency.

He added: “At the start of this round of political negotiations, the Alliance Party leader Naomi Long presented the Secretary of State with a letter calling for him to allow for the publication of political donations from January 1, 2014.

“Doing so would remove the cynicism and genuine concern around the source of donations to political parties.

“The Secretary of State bottled this important decision and let down the people of Northern Ireland, who have the right to know who funds each political party.

“Not backdating the publication of donations only feeds the cynicism felt by many people.”

Belfast Telegraph