Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Party donations - Should they be public?

The Northern Ireland Office has decided to delay until 2013 a ruling that would bring Northern Ireland in line with the UK and the ROI and make public the names of those who have donated to political parties. The decision will be regarded by those who wish to see greater transparency in politics as a bad one. If you look at the decision based solely on those terms then it most definitely is. If, however, you look at the decision in terms of public safety then it doesn't seem so bad.

The truth is that Northern Ireland is still a divided society. There has been much work down to try and bring about an end to the division but as yet, the job is a long way from being completed. As such, we cannot be compared to the UK and ROI because they just don't have the same levels of polarisation in their politics.

Consider someone who has for years worked alongside his colleagues, blissfully unaware of his politics and he unaware of theirs until it is published that he donated £50 to Sinn Fein and now he is all too aware of his colleagues loyalist leanings. It's not an unlikely scenario given that most people in the workplace in Northern Ireland know better than to ask about their colleagues politics. These are the people that must be protected. Intimidation doesn't have to be a death threat or a your car being attacked; it can simply be a shift in the atmosphere in a previously enjoyable work environment.

There could be a threshold where all donations over and above a figure cannot remain anonymous. Those who wish to donate large sums will just have to accept that such significant support to a party carries with it the burden of being associated publicly with them. It is important that the public know whether big businesses or organisations are effectively bankrolling their politicians.

Politicians put themselves up for public scrutiny and stand behind their opinions and beliefs. The poor chap who wants to stick £10 to his party should not have to.

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