Government agrees to end secrecy over political donations in Northern Ireland – but not for mystery Brexit donation

When the law over political donations was overhauled (or rather, introduced – as it had previously been pretty much a secret free-for-all), an exception was made for Northern Ireland. The requirements for transparency of donations in the rest of the UK* was not applied to Northern Ireland as, still fresh from its years of bloody violence, it was felt by many that forcing political donors to be named was not yet appropriate.

That secrecy has, however, come under recent sustained criticism as it has opened up a loophole for secret donations to impact not only elections in Northern Ireland but also UK-wide contests. In particular, a secret £435,000 donation to the DUP went on campaigning in favour of Brexit across the whole UK.

Now, however, the government has announced that donations in Northern Ireland will be subject to the same transparency rules as in the rest of the UK.

One catch – up until now, the source of large secret donations has still had to be recorded even if not published. The government’s plan is for those records to remain secret despite the Electoral Commission’s calls for transparency over donations made in recent years too. So the full story of that £435,000 for the Brexit referendum may never be known (update: that’s all the more likely now given the government voted through a legal change in defiance of the Electoral Commission).


* This transparency is not perfect, as continuing disputes over unincorporated associations in particular demonstrates, but it is pretty widespread.

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