This is yet another area that our laws here in Northern Ireland differ from the rest of the UK and it’s been a topic of debate in Stormont following disclosure that a number of errors had been reported by the Electoral Commission.
It has been argued that revealing identities of donors will make them vulnerable to attack, a claim which has been challenged by those who favour changing the system. Despite the Alliance Party’s attested victory in 2013 which was meant to make donations more transparent, it seems like the secretary of state never implemented the bill and donations are still shrouded in secrecy. In 2014 Westminster passed a law that stated: from January 2014 onwards donations made to political parties in Northern Ireland could at some point in the future be made public. Unfortunately, the Northern Ireland Miscellaneous Provisions Act (2014) stated that this would not happen until the UK Government judged it is “safe” and free from the threat of donators being targeted by terrorists. So all the power to implement this bill appears to lie with the Secretary of State, it’s just never happened, I guess because they still feel like there’s some threat…. 20 years on…
How are political parties funded?
1. Membership Fees
This is what the party charges the general public to “join” their party. Here’s an overview on what Northern Irish parties charge for membership.
NI Conservatives £25
Greens £24 (waged), £12 (unwaged)
TUV £25 (Waged), £10 (unwaged)
Sinn Fein (was unable to find a charge for membership)
DUP (was unable to find a charge for membership)
PUP (was unable to find any mention of membership on their website)
People Before Profit (was unable to find a charge for membership)]
UUP ranges between £5 and £30 depending on variables
This is the bit we don’t get to see, the part where our access as members of the public, is denied. The lack of transparency means we can’t see which companies and individuals have influence in which political parties and the law protects their identity. This lack of transparency means that voters aren’t getting the whole picture when it comes to voting for political parties in Northern Ireland.
3. State funding (though only for administrative costs)
The total grant is £2 million per year and distributed via a formula based on representation and performance at national and devolved legislature elections. To be eligible for the grant, a party must have at least two sitting Members of the House of Commons and have taken the oath of allegiance provided by the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866.
There are currently eight political parties eligible for the grant:
- Conservative Party
- Democratic Unionist Party – D.U.P.
- Labour Party
- Liberal Democrats
- Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales
- Scottish National Party (SNP)
- SDLP (Social Democratic & Labour Party)
- UK Independence Party (UKIP)
(taken from Electoral Commission website)
Here’s a video posted on the the details website (which you should totally read, they give a much better breakdown than me!) which explains how the process works in Northern Ireland
What can we do as members of the public?
If you care at all about political transparency, you can write to your local MLA, your local MP, your representatives. Write to the political parties asking them to publish details of their donations. Write a letter to Downing Street asking for UK intervention. Write to the Secretary of State who has the power to implement the law passed in 2014 giving us access to information on political donations.
That’s about all I can think of. Leave a comment if you can think of anything else that might be able to help.