The Secretary of State has announced that he is asking parties to consider the “next steps” along the road of finally reforming the Province’s secretive political donations system.
He issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon stating that he will be seeking views about ending the blanket cloak of anonymity for those giving money to parties and politicians.
The News Letter has been reporting on the issue for years, and in the last week has run stories about renewed calls for donor transparency following claims of alleged corruption surrounding the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) fiasco.
The biggest party in the Province, the DUP, recently changed its stance on the issue.
It had formerly cited security fears for donors as a reason for keeping their names secret, but in their 2016 Assembly manifesto the party called for the Province to be brought into line with the rest of the UK.
The statement from the Northern Ireland Office said that he would be “writing to Northern Ireland’s political parties on next steps for the reform of the transparency of political donations and loans”.
He said: “The political and security context in Northern Ireland has changed significantly since the last consultation on this issue and I know that political parties have been reflecting carefully on their previous positions.
“Voters in Northern Ireland will also welcome more information about how their political parties are funded.
“I would now like to seek views on whether the time is now right to move towards full transparency on donations and loans and to implement a change to the rules as soon as possible, bringing Northern Ireland into step with the wider UK.”
The Northern Ireland office said that “following consultation in 2010, the UK Government proposed amending the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 to provide for the Electoral Commission to publish information relating to Northern Ireland donations and loans without revealing the identities of donors or lenders”.
It added that this led to provisions in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014.
This act meant that all donations prior to 2014 are now secret, forever, by law; the donors and amounts given will never be known.
But the Secretary of State has had the power for years to move to make all donations since then more transparent, and has not done so.