Alliance Party response to NIOGN letter on donor transparency – January 2017
In response to our letter on donor transparency, the leader of the Alliance Party Naomi Long sent us the following letter addressed to the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire:
“FAO: Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Thank you for your recent letter seeking the views of the Alliance Party in respect of the removal of the exemption on the publication of large donors information in Northern Ireland.
Firstly, we are pleased that you responded positively to our request, in my letter of 21st December, 2016, to take action in this regard. We welcome the fact that we have an opportunity to respond to your review.
As you are aware, I have consistently called for the secrecy around party political donations in Northern Ireland to be addressed, and successfully amended the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act on Westminster to that effect in cooperation with your colleague, Theresa Villiers. My Westminster amendment had the support of all of the NI parties.
Whilst I was disappointed that the amendment to end secrecy with immediate effect failed, the successful amendment ensured that all donations dating back to the commencement date of the legislation (January 2014) can be published once the exemption is lifted.
All parties have been advised by the Electoral Commission that this is the case and guidance was issued to ensure that all donors from that date would be advised that any anonymity would be merely temporary.
I believe that, in the current climate, with allegations of cronyism and corruption emerging almost daily, it is now incumbent on you as Secretary of State to lift the NI exemption. Only by doing so can any measure of public confidence be restored in politics at this time: failure to do so will directly contribute to the public perception of politics as entirely self-serving and corrupt and the Assembly as unfit for purpose.
Furthermore, the DUP stated in their 2016 election manifesto that they would publish details of large donors in future. Alliance and the Green Party already do so on a voluntary basis. Parties have all agreed in principle that this should be done: however, they hide behind the argument that the time is not yet right.
I think it would be hard to identify a time more right for this to happen than now, when scandal and corruption allegations are increasing demands for transparency from the public and from those of us who want to restore confidence in politics. There is now no excuse for not proceeding to remove the exemption and a very compelling reason for doing so.
The argument for secrecy is one related to risk to donors; however, not only is that risk significantly lower than it was many years ago when the exemption was introduced, but it is highly questionable that it should outweigh the right of the public to scrutinise who donates to political parties and to judge for themselves whether or not that has any inappropriate influence on party policy or practice.
We cannot on one hand argue that Northern Ireland is a safe and stable region for investment and tourism and at the same time argue that it is such a dangerous and abnormal society that normal levels of openness and transparency should not apply.
I would also point out that despite dissident republican threats and attacks on our party and sustained loyalist violence during the flags protests aimed at us, we remained consistent in the publication of donor information.
Further, those who sign nomination papers have their details published and have throughout the Troubles. Despite that, parties have been able to nominate candidates without any difficulty. We see no reason why donors would be at more risk than attestors to election nominations.
I would also encourage you to review the evidence presented to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee during out consideration of the issue and, in particular Sir Christopher Kelly’s evidence, which was strongly in favour of the exemption being removed at that time and which sets out a clear and considered rationale for doing so.
One issue which was identified was that there are, according to most parties, very few donations of such magnitude that they would require publication. This was stated repeatedly in evidence. Either this is true, in which case the impact of publication on party finances would be insignificant, or it is untrue in which case it highlights the need for full transparency.
Finally, as a party we believe that consideration should be given to reduction of the threshold for publication. Given the relative size and budget of parties in Northern Ireland, one could argue that smaller donations could be perceived to have influence. We recognise that a need to balance that desire for transparency against the administrative burden under which parties would be placed; however, we would urge you to give serious consideration to such a reduction.
- We strongly support the ending of the exemption to the publication of large donor information with immediate effect;
- The date of commencement ought to be the earliest date in the legislation, January 2014; and
- Consideration should be given to reduction of the publication thresholds in Northern Ireland in line with lower income levels of parties.
I trust that this is helpful and I look forward to a favourable response as soon as possible.
Leader of Alliance Party”