The former MP who enabled the secretary of state to backdate transparency around political donations has revealed that she wrote to James Brokenshire last month to urge him to demonstrate his impartiality by using that power – something he has now said that he will not do.
As the MP for East Belfast in 2014, Naomi Long amended a Westminster bill to make clear that anyone who donated to a Northern Ireland political party from 2014 would know that at some future point their name was likely to be released once the secretary of state judged that there was no longer any security reason to maintain donor secrecy.
On Monday, Mr Brokenshire told the Commons that he would be ending donor secrecy in line with the Conservative manifesto pledge to do so and the overwhelming local support to do so.
However, the secretary of state did not explicitly state – until he was asked about it – that he had also decided not to backdate the decision so that the names of all those who donated since 2014 would be released.
That decision was immediately criticised by a former head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland – one of a handful of people who have seen the details of donations to every party in the Province.
Seamus Magee – who retired in 2014 – said: “The deal on party donations and loans must be part of the DUP/Conservative deal. No other explanation.”
He added: “Every party in Northern Ireland understood that the publication of political donations over £7,500 was to be retrospective to Jan 2014.”
Yesterday the News Letter asked the DUP whether the party had supported backdating the release of donor names and, if not, whether it would seek to amend the legislation which Mr Brokenshire will have to get through the Commons in order to end donor secrecy.
But DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC it was “absolutely not” true that there was any DUP-Tory agreement on donations, adding: “There is no side deal on party political donations.”
Yesterday Mrs Long, who is now the Alliance Party leader, published a letter which she sent to Mr Brokenshire just weeks ago which explicitly urged him to use the provision which she succeeded in getting on to the statute book almost four years ago.
Mrs Long wrote: “My amendment to legislation allows for publication in line with UK law to be backdated to January 2014. You have the power to enact this with immediate effect: it is now incumbent on you to do so without further delay,
“In doing so, not only would you be acting in the public interest, but it would also strengthen confidence in your ability to take decisions without undue influence from the DUP and, as such, would start to restore trust with the other political parties of Northern Ireland in your party’s role and impartiality.”
When asked on Monday why Mr Brokenshire had not backdated the change, the NIO told the News Letter: “We do not believe it is right or fair to impose retrospective regulations or conditions on people who donated in good faith in accordance with the rules as set out in law at the time.”