Political donations: Calls for transparency in NI

By Enda McClafferty
BBC News NI Political Correspondent

  • Published
A person writing a cheque

There are calls for more transparency around political donations after the main NI parties denied any link to an Electoral Commission investigation.

The commission investigated two separate donations, but is legally prevented from disclosing the details.

Legislation only allows information on donations made after July 2017 to be published.

The commission says it was unable to decide if the rules were broken in both cases.

However, it has expressed "regret" at not being able to publish the details.

After being contacted by the BBC, the Alliance Party admitted it was the subject of one of the investigations.

It confirmed that assembly member Andrew Muir failed to declare a trip and hospitality paid for by the US government during his time as a councillor in Ards and North Down.

'Openness and transparency'

The party said Mr Muir had "declared his participation" in the US trip to the council but was "unaware he also needed to declare it with the Electoral Commission".

"He rectified that as soon as it was made clear and apologised for his lateness," the party said.

"The commission made no determination of an offence in this case.

"Openness and transparency is of the utmost importance to Alliance, illustrated by the party leading on declaring political donations."

Image caption,
Andrew Muir failed to declare a trip and hospitality paid for by the US government during his time as a councillor in Ards and North Down

When contacted, none of the other main Stormont parties admitted any link to the second Electoral Commission investigation.

Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionists, SDLP, TUV, Greens and People Before Profit all issued statements denying any involvement in the inquiry and a DUP spokesman said his party was not the subject of the Electoral Commission investigation.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the public will be confused by the responses.

"This does not add up, there was an investigation and clearly some party must be aware of it," he said.

"This reinforces the need for the full details of Electoral Commission investigations to be published if the public are to have any confidence in the political system."

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission said it will continue to push for a change in the legislation to allow for full details to be published.

Louise Edwards, director of regulation at the commission, said: "We regret that we are unable to disclose information about donations prior to 1 July 2017.

"We continue to urge the UK government to bring forward legislation that will enable us to publish information on donations from January 2014.

"This would give transparency and confidence to voters in Northern Ireland."