Archived press release
Northern Ireland Democracy is Still a Reserved Matter

Friends of the Earth today (Wednesday 6 February) condemned Westminster’s decision to continue to prevent the Northern Ireland public from knowing who funds their politicians.

The environmental NGO was responding to the outcome of a Delegated Legislative Committee [1] in the House of Commons, which has supported Government policy on maintaining party funding secrecy in Northern Ireland.

Since 2007 the Electoral Commission has kept a list of any donor who gives over £7500 a year to a Northern Ireland political party, but citizens are prohibited from seeing this list. 

The Government has twice renewed the ban on public access, when the temporary legislation approached its expiry date.[2]

James Orr, Friends of the Earth’s Northern Ireland Director, said:

“We are very disappointed by the anti-democratic decision of Parliament today.  The MPs on the committee had the opportunity to gift the people of Northern Ireland with the truth about who is funding our politicians, but failed to do this.

“Transparent party funding is considered an essential aspect of healthy, participative democracy in almost every western country, but the Westminster Government seems to believe that 1.8 million of its own citizens are not entitled to this right.”

Mr Orr continued:

“In 2010 77% of respondents to a public consultation on this issue called for immediate transparency.  More recently we have accrued nearly 5000 postcards from members of the public, reiterating public support for parity with Great Britain.

“David Cameron will come to Northern Ireland this June for the G8 summit in Fermanagh, and promote his ‘golden thread’ theory of enablers of long-term development[3].  One of those threads is transparency.  The message we have received today from his Government, with the complicity of Parliament, is that everyone else in the world deserves transparent democracy, except for Northern Ireland.

“Until we stop being treated like a special case, we will continue to develop into a basket-case.”

For more information on Friends of the Earth’s ‘Who Pulls the Strings’ campaign go to http://bit.ly/wpts_pdf

Notes

[1] Delegated Legislative Committees divert what are considered to be minor statutory instruments away from debate in the House of Commons, to free up time for Government prioritised legislation

On two previous occasions Parliament has had the opportunity to let this ban lapse, but has instead opted for a renewal of the restriction.

It had originally been envisaged that the culture of donor secrecy would end in October 2010, but it will now continue until September 2014.

In a new development, the Government will soon announce new primary legislation that could mean a permanent difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK when it comes to transparent party funding.

[2]The “Prescribed Period” as this ban on access is called, was first renewed for four months in October 2010, and then renewed for two years in February 2011.

New legislation will be published soon – possibly as soon as the middle of February – and would create a new special status for Northern Ireland within the UK.  Whereas under the regime of the Prescribed Period, the default setting is for full transparency, with Parliament having to actively renew the restriction on access to the donor register, the new legislation would perpetuate an inferior right to know for Northern Ireland citizens until Parliament decided to change this.

[3] http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/david-cameron-new-york-university/ Cameron has stated that he believes that the only way to get “real long-term development through aid (is) if there is also a golden thread of stable government, lack of corruption, human rights, the rule of law, transparent information.”

For further information, please contact Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland on 028 9023 3488.

 

Published by Friends of the Earth Ltd