A word of warning.

Always expect things to be added slowly to this blog.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Show me the money...

At the start of August Hugo Swire announced an NIO consultation on the exceptional confidentiality provision that only applies to donations to the northern political parties.

The current arrangement has had it's expiry date shoved out from 31st October 2010 to 1st March 2011 by a nifty piece of legislation called the Control of Donations and Regulations of Loans Etc. (Extension of the Prescribed Period) (Northern Ireland) Order 2010. In brief, parties must provide financial information to the Electoral Commission (they already do this) - it just isn't published for the edification of the electorate.

While the consultation only began on the 3rd August (and continues to October 25th), it hasn't got much airtime, although the BBC flagged it on the 25th August as differences of opinion emerged between the DUP and Sinn Féin on the issue.

The DUP are taking the same line as 2005 regarding the primacy of security concerns over releasing the names and addresses of donors. While the convenience of this for the DUP (given how 2009 ended for them) is an obvious opportunity for a few cheap laughs at their expense, check out the 2009 end of year accounts provided to the Electoral Commission by the DUP, SDLP, Sinn Féin and UUP.

While you would need a good sense of profit/loss/cashflow analysis to follow the accounting and reporting systems (such as exist), it appears that the UUP raised a mammoth £307,797 in memberships fees, as opposed to £36,950 by the SDLP, £18,795 by the DUP and, apparently none by Sinn Féin. However, on the donations front Sinn Féin lead the way with £462,856 followed by the DUP on £126,211 and SDLP on £83,672. The UUP appear not to get any donations, until you go through the footnotes and find 'other donations' given as £21,776 (although why the donations are listed as 'other' is unclear).

Anyone interested in the figures for Sinn Féin can actually examine them on the party's website since it is obliged to published them in the Republic. Off the back of an envelope, the combined salaries of the Sinn Féin MLAs alone is over £1m, and since the parties electoral representatives only draw a flat wage, this presumably accounts for a chunk of the £462,856 in donations.

While this may feel horrifyingly banal - this is what real politics will be about. For too long security concerns have been a lazy flag of convenience for many practices and people should take the opportunity of the consulation to have their say in getting rid of this one.

Is it possible that some parties fear that publicity, rather than their security, will scare off their donors?