The Tories have changed the rules to keep the DUP’s dark money secret

Tory-DUP deal could threaten our human rights
Sophia Akram

The Conservative Party has managed to keep details of a suspicious donation to the DUP secret. This is despite a legal requirement that would have exposed the origins of the much discussed sum of money. And they have done so by seemingly ignoring the law in question.

Secret donations

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire recently announced that he would be ending the rule allowing donors contributing £7,500 or more to parties in Northern Ireland to remain secret.

Brokenshire’s declaration comes from an amendment proposed back in 2014 by Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party MP Naomi Long. Long proposed that the amendment to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act be implemented once the Secretary of State judged there was no longer a security reason to keep donors secret; because the rule was originally in place to protect those funding political parties from becoming a potential terrorist target during the troubles.

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The understanding was also that any party donors should from that point onwards expect their names to eventually be released. As Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael pointed out in response to Brokenshire’s announcement, the date in the Bill was set to 1 January 2014.

Quiet alteration

But Brokenshire said the amendment would only apply from 1 July 2017:

I did not believe it right to impose retrospective regulations on people who donated in accordance with the rules as set out in law at the time.

Other parties also do not appear keen on applying the rule retrospectively. DUP leader Arlene Foster said:

In addition to the more general question of whether to introduce full transparency, we are of the view that legislation to provide for this should apply to those donations and loans received following new legislative provisions taking effect.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, in highlighting the importance of transparency, also made no mention of backdating the measure.

And out of all the parties in Northern Ireland, the Alliance Party and the Green Party are reportedly the only two that have published the names of their donors.

Transparency blown

Seamus Magee, former Northern Ireland Electoral Commission head, believes this move is part of the Tory/DUP deal. The DUP has denied this.

But it now means the origins of dark money funnelled by the DUP into the Brexit Leave campaign will remain hidden.

An investigation by Open Democracy‘s Adam Ramsay found that the DUP paid for a £282,000 advert promoting the Leave campaign. It placed the advert in The Metro newspaper, a free publication that doesn’t even reach the DUP’s constituents. The money came from a £435,000 donation from the Constitutional Research Council (CRC). This group is chaired by Richard Cook, a former Scottish Conservative Party vice-chairman and businessman.

The DUP admits paying for the adverts using the donation. But the ultimate source of the money into the group remains a mystery. And it shows that whoever donated the money wished to hide beneath several layers of secrecy.

Long criticised Brokenshire’s decision:

Theories relating to the origin of the money have varied, including being possibly from Saudi Arabia. Implementing this law retrospectively from 2014 could have put speculation to bed. Instead, the government has done the DUP (and potentially itself) a huge favour by burying the question indefinitely.

Get Involved!

Sign the petition demanding Northern Ireland gets dark money out of government.

– Make your thoughts on the Tory/DUP deal known. Contact your MP and be vocal on social media.

– Read more Canary articles on the DUP.

Featured image via Flickr

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