The British government has been accused of damaging the democratic process by restricting the fund-raising of political parties.
British minister John Spellar announced yesterday that parties in the North will face a limit of 200 pounds sterling on their international donors, including the 26 Counties.
This is expected to mostly affect Sinn Féin, and to a lasser extent, the rival nationalist SDLP.
Sinnn Féin assembly member Mitchell McLaughlin accused the British government of trying to “stop the electoral advances of Sinn Féin”.
“This is just the latest in a series of measures to deny Sinn Féin sources of funding available to all other parties,” he added.
Mr McLaughlin said his party had been denied #100,000 in policy development grants which are available to parties with more than two MPs.
“We had last week’s decision by [British Direct Ruler] Paul Murphy to withhold #120,000 of assembly funding from our party and now this further attempt to restrict party fund-raising.”
The bulk of donations are “spent in the countries of origin and studiously scrutinised by the respective governments”, Mr McLoughlin said, adding that Sinn Féin was the only party in Ireland “to voluntarily open it books and sources of finance to public scrutiny”.
Making the announcement, Mr Spellar said there was a greater need for transparency since the current arrangements were “open to abuse” and made a clear difference between the financial opportunities for parties north and south of the border as well as in Britain.
He did not comment on allegations the move was motivated by pressure from the unionist parties, who welcomed the proposals.
East Antrim UUP MP Roy Beggs said it would correct “an imbalance in our democracy”.