End of donor secrecy (flick of a legislative wand and NI ‘dark money’ is a thing of the past)…

So an end to donation secrecy in Northern Ireland. It’s been long awaited, but today James Brokenshire made good his party’s promise in their Northern Irish manifesto… From Hansard:

James Brokenshire: “The hon. Lady highlights the issue of political donations and transparency. We conducted a consultation with all the political parties in Northern Ireland to seek their views first, and that was the reason for the decision we have taken today, reflecting those views and that input and the commitment in my party’s manifesto.”

(And later in response to the) Liberal Democrat member for Orkney‘s point: “The Secretary of State is right when he says that we need greater transparency on political donations, but he must be aware that the House has already expressed its view on that matter. The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 set the relevant date as being 1 January 2014. Why is he now seeking to change that?”

James Brokenshire: The simple point on that is that it is about compliance with the regulations and seeing that those making donations are able to make those determinations based on the law that is in existence, rather than looking at retrospection. Obviously, there will be further opportunity for the House to debate that issue. However, I think that that is the clearest way of doing it.

Of course, like everything else that the current government is trying to implement, it will be subject to that debate and possible amendment in the chamber (ie, the details, insofar as we have, are still not a done deal).

  • Jag

    From Naomi Long at 6pm today

    “You bottled this @JBrokenshire. This was a chance to show you aren’t in the DUP’s pocket & publish who lines theirs. You failed to grasp it.”

    https://twitter.com/naomi_long

    There’s no back-dating, that’s her issue.

  • mickfealty

    Maybe Lady Sylvia will have something to say about that in the Chamber?

  • mac tire

    She can say what she likes. If this is part of a deal with the DUP (as some are increasingly suggesting now) then there’s nothing that can be done about it.
    They will no doubt be fine words – but, as always, to no avail.

  • mickfealty

    As I say, it’s all subject to scrutiny in the Commons chamber, which (as we know from the abortion measure) is unlikely to honour any grubby deal in this regard (if that’s what this really is about).

    The SoS has promised his reasoning will be put in the HofC library, so we should find out then. I thought the DUPs had mentioned this in their 2015 manifesto, but it was foreign donations they wanted banned (which hasn’t been).

  • Jag

    The Shinners have something to say too, but obvs not in the Chamber!

    “The fact that it is only backdated until July 1 2017 means that it will not cover anything before that date, despite the fact he had the power to backdate it to July 2014.

    “This is not good enough and allows the cover up of the ‘dark money’ given to the DUP to back Brexit to continue. “

  • hollandia

    Seems entirely sound and above board, and not at all anything to do with the confidence and supply deal. It’ll be interesting what the UK media make of this, now that they’re suddenly interested.

  • Granni Trixie

    If it looks like a side deal and smells like a side deal it is one! Will be interesting to hear how Westminster MPs interpret the decision.

  • Accountant

    Absolutely.

    Maybe murky disclosure in the past, but only playing by the (almost certainly defective) rules.

    Timing may be convenient for DUPers – that may be the price for the Tory deal, get used to it – but the legislation is the right thing to do.

    And do Naomi Long and Michelle O’Neil really expect any credible framework to go backwards and define rules retrospectively ?

    That’s the politics of persecution and anarchy, not law-making – be very careful.

  • It’s a pity that it wasn’t done sooner.This will be a FOI 2.0 for journalists.

  • Spike

    Certainly not ideal and it remains to be seen if the Commons debate can tease out what some parties are reluctant to hide in regards to the past 3 years donations BUT at least transparency is available from now on and we can slowly edge towards normal politics. Will bring a more level playing field.

  • chrisjones2

    Still fighting Brexit …just not very effectively

  • Jag

    Let’s be honest, this is really about the DUP* and its donors, the shadowy Scottish Tory-linked body with links to Saudi Arabia which laundered a £400k donation through the DUP which was used for wrap-around Brexit ads on London’s Metro newspaper.

    Given the DUP’s links to Red Sky, NAMA, RHI, SIF as well as several infrastructure projects, I would love to see its donors from July 2014. Wouldn’t you? If they’ve nothing to hide, then why don’t they voice their support for back-dating the disclosures?

    (*And of course SF and its donors. But SF is arguing for the back-dating so they apparently have nothing to hide).

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Interesting SF is asking for back-dating … they must really trust the guy who’s been falsifying their accounts. Or they’ve been very careful to keep IRA money and SF money separate. I wonder which category Slab Murphy’s contributions fall under? Noraid?

    But actually, this is a good move and about time – and I actually go with SF on this one. Let’s use some of that billion to go forensically back through the money dealings of the political parties in NI, with a particular focus on the DUP and SF. I would very much like to see what that throws up. And I’d hope for prosecutions of those at the top who may have overseen illegal activity.

  • Reader

    Jag: And of course SF and its donors. But SF is arguing for the back-dating…
    With no risk of it actually happening, of course.

  • hollandia

    SF have been pretty bolshy actually on publishing their accounts annually, so I suspect they would be fairly confident of any potential investigation into the last three years.

    https://www.irishtimes.com/news/sf-publishes-audited-head-office-accounts-1.401225?mode=amp

  • The experiences of Castlereagh Borough Council and local Councils exercising planning control could have been potentially so much more interesting to journalists.

  • grumpy oul man

    You must immediately bring your evidence that SF are falsifying their accounts.
    If course if you have no evidence than perhaps you could stick to the facts and maybe cut out the secterian propaganda.
    Wonderful from someone who just the other day was in full mope mode about people telling the truth about the DUP and here you are making wild and unsubstantiated claims about SF.
    It would be hard to believe if we didnt know you.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Mick.

    Next thing we need is an end to the practice of asking to be paid for work in cash.

    [You and I give a builder £400 in £20 notes for doing some job.

    He pockets the cash, and makes no reference to it on his income tax return.

    Lots of dishonest people do the same thing.

    You and I pay more tax, so as to fill the hole which these dishonest people have dug.]

    Now back to the subject. Would it be possible for a local political party to receive large donations in cash, and to pay some of its big bills with that cash?

  • james

    To be fair to MU, SF did until recently have a full-blown paramilitary wing which was active in organized crime – of which the Northern Bank robbery was one of the most high profile crimes. It’s only fair to ask where the money went, or goes.

    The problem with organized crime is that the costs get ultimately passed on to the public. So all those foreign bank accounts and houses bought in other countries by top Republicans are paid for by all of us.

    An investigation, by an external entity, would be most welcome.

  • james

    Backdating until when, though? Last month?

  • chrisjones2

    Yes but there are much simpler ways.

    These including setting up bogus companies and charities and using them to campaign and do work for the party keeping expenditure off books

    Making your elected members give you the codes for their bank accounts then hoovering in all their expenses as ‘donations’ so that they are forced to claim benefits to feed their families

    Getting supporters / donors to fund things directly avoiding the party completely and never passing through the books

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Chris.

    Like I badly need to spend £500 of my own money on a new garden shed, and you want to give me a donation of £500 in support of my political work. You go to the shed-making company, order the shed as a birthday present for your friend’s ten-year-old daughter, tell the nice man exactly where your friend lives, and pay the bill.

  • grumpy oul man

    And to be fair tioMU he was giving off the other day about people dealing in sterotypes about the DUP and how wrong it was to label whole groups withoout evidence.
    And you yourself just a few days ago said that without a court case and seeing the full evidence you would not even admit that 3000 pallets were stolen or the UDA had anything to do with it.
    So im sure you have proof positive about SF beniffiting from the northern bank robbery, i would love to see it as i don’t remember the courtcase that proved it.
    I’m no lover of SF but the double standards and Whataboutry of Unionists does annoy me.
    Now like every other party SF has to account to the electoral commission all monies recieved and literally show a set of balanced books.
    So unless you think the accountants at the electoral commission are incompetent or secret Shinners you really have to think twice about accusing them of something when you have no evidence and those whose job it is to enforce party funding rule seem happy enough with SFs finances.
    So also a bit of proof that SF and senior republicians are involved in organised crime, i must have missed all those court cases as well.

  • grumpy oul man

    2014 is the date suggested.

  • chrisjones2

    Or the money goes to a ‘Friends of’ organisation which pays the rent of offices that you then use free of charge or for a peppercorn rent

  • David Crookes

    Right, Chris.

    Take the case of a local party which has enjoyed a long-term association with fundraising supporters of terrorism in the USA.

    How hard would it be for that now-pacific party to keep the money from America flowing through invisible channels?

    Surely the answer must be NOT VERY HARD, because the idea that the money has stopped flowing is quite incredible (even after 9/11 and Edward Kennedy’s honorary knighthood).

    Some people have mendacious form.

    (“Yes, I was in Paul Channon’s flat in Chelsea, but I was never in the IRA.”)

    When such people invite you to scrutinize their books, you know at once that any scrutiny will be a waste of time.

    * * * * * * *

    Talking about the USA, we might ask ourselves why different ‘ethnic’ groups in America don’t object to the enormous fuss that is made about St Patrick’s Day every year.

    If I was one of the daft race-gender-class parasites who dominate the arts faculties of American universities,, I should denounce this fuss as a shameless orgy of racism.

  • Barneyt

    More often than not I have to found myself getting frustrated that NI only has the DUP voice in Westminster. Whilst I respect any republicans right not to show royal allegiance, the absence of alternatives is dangerously conspicuous. Could 6 months of direct rule with DUP operating the puppet cause SF to make a strategic change? Chances are direct rule will not be possible given the electoral split but what if

  • Brendan Heading

    The Shinners have something to say too, but obvs not in the Chamber!

    It’s hard to take the Shinners very seriously on this. Anyone can disclose information about their donors without waiting for the law to change.

  • Brendan Heading

    It’s only fair to ask where the money went, or goes.

    Political parties file accounts and details of donations with the Electoral Commission already. It seems reasonable to assume that if the EC thought that money laundering or criminal conduct were occurring that the police would have already been informed.

  • Brendan Heading

    I wouldn’t be sure about that. The legislation allows for a secretary of state to back-date to 2014 at any time. A new SoS, perhaps under a Labour government, could quite conceivably do this.

  • Brendan Heading

    And do Naomi Long and Michelle O’Neil really expect any credible framework to go backwards and define rules retrospectively ?

    Except that is not what is happening. The rules were defined in 2013 and all the political parties were notified by the Electoral Commission that their donations could be subject to disclosure beginning from 2014. It is not a retrospective change.

  • james

    Ok. And what stops parties from not declaring all income streams?

    Incidentally, since SF reps apparently pay a huge chunk of their salaries directly to the party, one wonders who pays tax on these amounts…

  • Granni Trixie

    I think we had a thread speculating peviously on how the system works. I think it likely that the individual SF rep is responsible for paying tax on theIr own Assembly salary.

  • Accountant

    But weren’t

  • james

    I see. I hope that is actually getting done properly – does seem to be a bit of confusion even among the Shinners themselves on how that works.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Brendan, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed how SF has been dealt with since the Peace Process started? The modus operandi has been to let certain things go, up to and including serious claims that SF’s leadership answers to the PIRA Army Council. And we know about the huge criminality senior SF members and donors have been involved in. The idea that none of that money has found its way through to SF in some shape or form beggars belief. I’ve been saying for a while we should be taking a very close look indeed at how SF is run, how decisions are made and what influence criminals have over the organisation. I suspect it is a very significant influence indeed.

  • Faux fascination with openness as always is being used as a political football, and the claims of the BBC and Alliance that “everyone wants to know” is completely false. Of course some want to know so that they can further peddle their conspiracy theories, others may want to know for darker reasons to target donor illegally but in truth the vast majority do not really care … maybe they should but they do not. How many people ever read the details of EU grants given to farmers or the recipients of grants under the RHI scheme except for a few journalists who tried to find some DUP party officers in it but didn’t, in truth I spent 10 minutes looking and got tired of it but in that initial glance I found some who would be more likely UUP or Alliance supporters but that doesn’t really fit the big conspiracy theory now does it ?

  • steve white

    was there really any expectation that this would be backdated when it was ever fainlly implemented?

  • Granni Trixie

    Let me clarify, I’m only speculating based on prevailing legal rules governing earnings. I do seem to remember some SF rep got into hot water with the authorities because he didn’t seem to know how the Sf system for wages-donations-expenses works either.

  • grumpy oul man

    the MLAs and MPs pay tax on their wages same as you do, since SF is not a charity i assume there would be no tax relief.
    your very best straw man .

  • Brendan Heading

    I’d say it’s actually quite likely that SF ensure their party finances are kept squeaky clean, knowing that they face special attention if they break any rules. No doubt the rules are bent, but it’s very unlikely that there’s evidence of crime in the accounts.

    If any organisation involved in politics was to commit crime and use money obtained illegally to run a political party (and there is no suggestion on my part that this is the case concerning anyone we’ve discussed) they’d launder the money and funnel it into the party legitimately.

  • Brendan Heading

    Ok. And what stops parties from not declaring all income streams?

    We’re going off on a tangent here, but anyway. Spending on elections and political activities also has to be recorded (and is publicly disclosed). If you’re spending money that you’re not declaring this will become immediately obvious, similarly as it does when individuals or corporations are filing tax returns or accounts.

    Incidentally, since SF reps apparently pay a huge chunk of their salaries directly to the party, one wonders who pays tax on these amounts…

    We’ve dealt with this on Slugger here at some considerable length. SF elected representatives pay tax via PAYE like anyone else, and (like all elected representatives) are required by law to file tax returns. Donations from SF reps to the parties are paid out of their net salary.

  • Brendan Heading

    there is no confusion, including among the shinners (although they get cagey about what exactly an “average industrial wage” is).

    They all get a payslip from the Assembly Commission every month and a P60 through the post every year. The Assembly is an employer and is required to collect tax from its employees at source like every other employer.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Like I say, they must really trust their accountant

    Any thoughts on how the robbery / smuggling proceeds get used within the organisation? That would be interesting to know more about.

  • Brendan Heading

    I was addressing your specific remark that there were proposals for retrospective rules. There are not. All donations from 2014 were, and still are, subject to disclosure and all NI political parties were informed of this in writing by the Electoral Commission.

  • Brendan Heading

    Complete and utter nonsense.

    It is a standard across most western democracies that party political spending is regulated, controlled and published to the general public.

    Conspiracy theories are exactly the point – secrecy around donations encourages such speculation, and the straightforward solution is to ensure that all relevant details are published.

  • Brendan Heading

    The Revenue/HMRC has rules around gifts of this kind.

  • Brendan Heading

    Did you read what I said at all ?

  • Brendan Heading

    Mick,

    The House of Commons doesn’t quite have the power here that you think. The Secretary of State makes the order to change the disclosure rules by statutory instrument, which has to be approved by the House, but to my understanding it is not subject to amendment. It either stands or falls.

    If it falls, there will be no disclosure and, due to the grubby deals intimated to by mac tire above, the SoS will not propose an amended SI which pushes the date back further.

    The House could, of course, debate a private member’s bill to change the rules.

    My guess is that the SI will be waved through and there will be no recorded vote. If a future Labour Secretary of State wishes to exact vengeance, the existing legislation empowers him or her to backdate to 2014 if that is deemed necessary.

  • james

    Was that Phil Flanagan?

  • Granni Trixie

    Hard to remember….they come and go….

  • Granni Trixie

    But surely there have been ‘mistakes’ made which get into the public domain concerning expenses connected to the system Sf has developed for administering their unique wages system?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I run a business myself. Not everything I do in my business shows up in the accounts. In my case it’s not nefarious, it’s just I can’t claim back lunches on the road against tax unless there’s an overnight stay; the cost of my office in our house isn’t fully regarded as part of the business; I can’t claim for buying the car I use; etc. There is the accounting reality and there is actual reality. So I’m assuming SF members will also have a number of things they deal with which don’t show up in the books. I’m just saying I would be interested to know more about them.

    Given the party’s intimate links with organised crime, I would have thought it would be worth a gander to see what might have leaked across. But yes I’m sure their books are clean as a whistle, they’d be stupid not to take care of that side.

  • 05OCT68

    Suppose an organisation or company has been making political donations to a party for years but stops making donations because said donation would now be made public? Now suppose you were a loyal customer or employee of these organisations/companies, how would you feel if said organisation or company for years held diametrically opposite views to yours unbeknownst to you? Surly the public has a right to know of this past record. The contribution to the DUP of a pro leave organisation is an example of the exploitation of the rules in NI to manipulate British public opinion, speculation that Putin & or a Saudi Prince backed the Constitutional Research Council (see The Independent) must be a cause for concern of any democrat. These organisations/companies wanted it all ways, contribute to the party/campaign of their choice but not have the consequence of adverse public reaction. I work for a large American multinational & every year it published it’s political donations, interestingly it pays a small & I mean small donation to the Democrats & Republicans, Its reasoning is it has no political affiliations but is supporting the democratic process.

  • Granni Trixie

    But however legal, people can read into patterns of political ‘giving’. For example, we have seen from past cases SF associated charities/voluntary associations were set up as vehicles which attracted grants and other monies. In one case at least, once the spotlight fell on their non activity they folded. If such sums relate to SF accounts is yet to be seen. Should also be interesting to know the total amounts gifted to SF from their MLAs. Its legit to donate ofcourse but helps shine a light on relationship between resources and results.

  • Reader

    hollandia: SF have been pretty bolshy actually on publishing their accounts annually,
    So you present a 2002 reference?
    Anyway, in the matter of donor secrecy, it is safer to pay attention to what SF do, rather than what they say:
    https://sluggerotoole.com/2017/07/06/it-seems-everyone-but-alliance-said-no-to-back-dating-publication-of-donors-names/

  • Reader

    Granni Trixie: I do seem to remember some SF rep got into hot water with the authorities because he didn’t seem to know how the Sf system for wages-donations-expenses works either.
    He claimed benefits because his semi-voluntary donations to SF coffers left him with less money that he felt he was entitled to.

  • Reader

    MainlandUlsterman: Any thoughts on how the robbery / smuggling proceeds get used within the organisation?
    I would assume that they aren’t – there are plenty of ways for a political organisation with a load of pensioners and councillors on their back to spend cash.

  • hollandia

    Yes to demonstrate that they’ve been talking about his for fifteen years.

    There’s plenty more, were you bothered to look for it:

    http://www.sinnfein.ie/financial-accounts