NI political donor details revealed for the first time

Alliance leader Naomi Long
Alliance leader Naomi Long

The first-ever details about who has been giving money to Northern Irish political parties have now been revealed.

However, the information released today by the Electoral Commission shows few large donations from private sources in the last several months.

The biggest single donations on the list were two gifts of £7,500, received by the Alliance Party from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

Based in York, it dubs itself a grant-making body “rooted in liberalism and Quakerism”, which gives cash to political causes “that are ineligible for charitable funding”.

In addition, the DUP received a donation of £4,999 from Gross Hill Properties Ltd, based in central London.

It was accepted on July 3 by Ian Paisley’s North Antrim Westminster Association.

None of its six current company officers are listed as having Northern Irish addresses; rather, two are resident in Israel, three in the UK, and another appears to have no listed country of residence.

One of the UK-resident company officers is lawyer Alan Jenkins, who sat on the board of the Crown Prosecution Service last year.

Gross-Hill also gave £25,000 to the Tories last May.

Website The Detail quoted Michael Gross, whom it describes as founder of Gross-Hill, as saying Mr Paisley is a “family friend”.

He was further quoted saying he has supported people who share his views on issues such as “Brexit or the Middle East”, adding: “I wanted to make sure he was elected, that’s called democracy.”

In a statement the DUP said it “welcomes the increased transparency” brought about by yesterday’s list.

Another section which stands out from the donor list is a set of two contributions from Brian Duffin to the SDLP.

Mr Duffin is a councillor for the Dunsilly area of Newtownabbey. But he is now sitting as an independent after it was revealed in mid-February that he had quit the party, pending legal proceedings.

The 73-year-old from Cargin Road, Toomebridge, is currently facing a single charge of unwanted sexual touching of a female in June 2016, which he denies.

He pleaded not guilty two months ago and the next hearing is set to be in Antrim magistrates’ court next Tuesday.

He made two donations of £1,000 to the south Antrim branch of the party, in September and December 2017, something he described as being for office upkeep.

Much of the list of donations is made up of politicians donating to their own political parties – notably Sinn Fein.

Its politicians gave widely-varying sums to their party on a continual basis, ranging from perhaps a few hundred pounds per person one month, to a couple of thousand another month.

Although the figures on the list largely cover July to December 2017, a quirk of accounting rules means that some donations from previous months also show up.

This is because if multiple donations throughout the calendar year pass the reporting threshold once they are totted up, each individual donation is then revealed.

These rules are that if a party’s central HQ receives £7,500 from a single source annually, or if a branch office receives £1,500 from a single source annually, then the donor will be publicly named.

LONG CAMPAIGN FOR TRANSPARENCY:

The release of the names has been a long-running battle, with all the main parties (with the exception of Alliance) refusing to voluntarily release the information for years.

Then late in 2017 the government agreed that donor details for Northern Irish parties would indeed be published on a mandatory basis, in the same manner as Great Britain.

However, this move did not fully satisfy transparency campaigners.

This is because the government has said it will only guarantee to reveal donors since last summer, despite having the legal power to publish all details since the start of 2014.

This led to the accusation, voiced by Labour’s shadow NI secretary Owen Smith, that the date of July 2017 had been chosen “to protect the DUP”, by making sure potentially-embarassing donations will be hidden from view.

When it came to voting in favour of the new arrangements last week, the Tories and DUP were the only parties to back it.