Northern Ireland: 5-year campaign sees end to secret political donations

An era of secret political donations in part of the UK is set to come to an end, thanks to campaigning by Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland. 

Rules which make the identity of donors to political parties transparent in the rest UK have excluded Northern Ireland (due to the history of conflict and violence there).

New legislation announced

But this week, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire MP announced the government would introduce legislation to reverse this.

The deal between the Northern Irish DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) and Conservative Party highlighted concerns about the implications for UK democracy of having a government rely on a secretly funded party to keep it in power.

However it isn’t just the DUP that has refused to reveal the identity of its donors – Sinn Fein, the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) and UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) also kept them hidden.

Healthy environment needs healthy democracy

The move is a victory for Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland which has campaigned against secret political donations for 5 years.

James Orr said: “Friends of the Earth believes that we cannot have a healthy environment without a healthy democracy. Northern Ireland has a history of perverse and environmentally damaging planning decisions.

“The potential influence of dark money created a breakdown a trust in how decision were made. This decision by the Secretary of State provides an opportunity to rebuild trust in our planning system for the sake of people and the precious environment of Northern Ireland.”

However Friends of the Earth is disappointed that the Secretary of State has chosen not reveal donations from January 2014 as the law allows.

Damaging developments have threatened nature and wildlife

A series of environmentally damaging developments have threatened irreplaceable habitats, such as Lough Neagh (pictured above), the river Faughan and the Giant’s Causeway.

Friends of the Earth has been concerned that environmental decision making in Northern Ireland could be open to the influence of political donors who might like to keep their identities and conflicts of interest hidden.

Two examples of successful campaigning by Friends of the Earth

Ending donor secrecy was a key demand made by Friends of the Earth for all political parties to include in their manifestos at the General Election.

Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said: “This has been a great week for our team in Belfast. First they win a vital legal challenge to stop unlawful sand dredging in Lough Neagh.

“Now years of campaigning will see an end to the veil of secrecy surrounding Northern Ireland’s political funding. Two brilliant examples of Friends of the Earth making a real difference in the UK.”

First published on 7 July

Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland