The Environment Minister has said that he would like to see greater transparency around large donations to political parties, as it could help to remove “suspicion” from councillors who are to be given planning powers.
Mark H Durkan made the comment against a backdrop of concern that the new ‘super councils’ could be wide open to planning corruption because councillors will be given control of planning but their parties’ major financial backers will remain hidden.
However, his department stressed that the issue of political donations was “a matter for the NIO rather than DoE”.
Mr Durkan said: “I would like to see greater transparency in terms of political donations.
“Not only will this give more confidence to the electorate in the decisions made by political representatives, it could also protect representatives from supposition and suspicion.”
Mr Durkan’s department said in a statement that the Local Government Bill — which received final approval from the Assembly on Tuesday — “provides for the department to issue a mandatory code of conduct, currently out for consultation, which states that, when making decisions under planning legislation and making decisions that are of a quasi-judicial or regulatory nature, a councillor must not only avoid impropriety but must, at all times, avoid any occasion for suspicion and appearance of improper conduct, to reduce the risk of legal challenge on decisions”.
Elections to the 11 new councils will be held on May 22 but the councils will not take control for another 10 months, operating in ‘shadow’ form until then as the 26 old councils are wound up.
From 1 April, 2015, the new councils will take control of current local government functions, as well as other powers including planning, urban regeneration, off-street parking and small-scale tourism development.