Transparent Government – Political Donations in NI

NI is the only place in the UK that allows donors to political parties to remain anonymous. Imagine the uproar if the party of the minister involved in planning decisions got large donations from developers or controversial fracking businesses. And decisions went their way!

There have been a couple of recent campaigns pushing for transparency.

Here is the reply from Theresa Villiers, cyclist and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Thank you for your e-mail to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to donors to political parties. 

The Secretary of State has considered carefully whether it would be appropriate to allow the current arrangements with regard to the anonymity of donors to lapse. We believe that there is a strong case for increasing the transparency of donations and loans to political parties in Northern Ireland. 

However, the Secretary of State has decided to extend the prescribed period, for a limited period of time, for two reasons:

Firstly the identities of those who made donations or loans during the prescribed period would be revealed if the provisions were to lapse without introducing primary legislation to provide retrospective anonymity. The guidance given to donors and lenders at the time they contributed did not make clear that this was a possibility.

Secondly, the general threat level in Northern Ireland remains at SEVERE. As recent events have shown all too clearly, there remain those who are willing to use violence against individuals, with whose views they disagree. PSNI statistics show that there has also been no general reduction in incidents of violence or intimidation since this matter was last considered in 2010.

Nevertheless we believe that there is room to increase the transparency of the donations and loans regime without compromising the security of individuals or businesses. This requires the introduction of primary legislation to allow the donations and loans regime in Northern Ireland to be amended. At present, the Secretary of State is only able to decide between maintaining or removing the current regime.

To that end we have now secured drafting authority to introduce this primary legislation when Parliamentary time allows. Given that the existing legislation will fall on 28 February 2013, the provisions ensuring donor identities in NI remain protected need to be extended for a further period to allow time for primary legislation to be introduced. The Secretary of State proposes to extend the current regime only to allow time for this, not for the full two years.

We hope you will appreciate the steps that are being taken to ensure greater openness and transparency while respecting the Parliamentary process and timetable.  

Yours Sincerely,