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Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014

Sections 1 and 2: Donations and Loans Etc for Political Purposes

5.These sections give effect to commitments made by the Government following a public consultation: ‘Donations and Loans to Northern Ireland Political Parties – The Confidentiality Arrangements’, published on 3 August 2010.(2) The Government published its response to this consultation on 17 January 2011.

6.Northern Ireland political parties, like parties elsewhere in the UK, must report donations and loans above a certain threshold to the Electoral Commission. However, in contrast to Great Britain, the Electoral Commission is under a strict statutory obligation not to disclose any information that relates to these donations or loans, including donor identities. These arrangements, which were introduced to protect donors and lenders from intimidation, apply only during the ‘prescribed period’. This period began on 1 November 2007 (prior to that the regulatory scheme had been disapplied in respect of Northern Ireland). The prescribed period has been extended on three occasions: on 1 August 2010, on 1 March 2011, and most recently by S.I. 2013/320, which extended the prescribed period until 30 September 2014.

7.In its January 2011 consultation response, the Government noted that, while a majority of responses were in favour of moving directly to the system used in Great Britain, there were a number of responses which expressed continued concern about the security implications of such a change. The provisions of this Act implement the Government’s commitment to modify the law gradually to make more information about donations and loans to political parties available to the public, without compromising the security of individuals or businesses, before a move to full transparency.

8.The August 2010 consultation also sought views on the retrospective disclosure of donor information. At present, the details of donations and loans reported to the Electoral Commission during the prescribed period can be made public when that period ends. In response to the consultation, the majority of political parties, as well as the Electoral Commission, acknowledged the need to prevent retrospective disclosure of this information, arguing that those making donations from 1 November 2007 were doing so in the belief that these donations would not be released even when the confidentiality arrangements expired. In its response to the consultation, the Government committed to introducing primary legislation to ensure that the identities of those who made donations and loans during the prescribed period – including any extended periods - would not be released after the expiry of that period.

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