Never Waste a Good Crisis (III) – Party Donations

By Richard Price:

Waste of public resource is not all that has been unpalatable in the #RHI scandal. We could mention the whiff of cover-up, allegations of out-of-control special advisors, and general bungling and incompetence at the top levels of government. But sitting alongside all of this is an unsettling suspicion that special friends of parties of Government, may have became in-the-know about generous new Government boondoggles, and subsequently benefited.

Those making returns off the renewable heat incentive scheme, that we so far have been allowed to know of, include church organisations with historic links to the DUP and family members of DUP special advisors.

That those with connections to the DUP should be found to be benefitting from schemes put in place by DUP ministers raises particular concerns in an environment where we still enjoy close to zero transparency in respect to political party donations in Northern Ireland.

The Electoral Commission is clear. Information about direct donations to political parties in Northern Ireland should be made public as “It’s important for people’s confidence in the democratic process and in politics generally that there should be transparency about who is funding political parties.”

For as long as information on political party donation remains secret, the public can never know the full extent to which wealthy friends of the DUP derived benefit from the RHI scheme. This is a recipe for ever more cynicism and mistrust towards those in power.

It may well be that the DUP have nothing to hide on this and my suspicion is entirely misplaced. In which case though, why not follow the legal custom of declaration on political party donation that has applied in GB for the past 17 years? Just declare.

On a long-term basis, it is time to bring our laws on political party donation transparency into line with our GB counterparts.

On the back of the #RHI scandal, to rebuild trust in the political process with the public, all Stormont political parties should state their commitment to achieving transparency in respect to party donations, and launch immediate activity to achieve the necessary amendments to legislation to make this so.

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