Opinion - Kylie Noble - Who pulls the strings at Stormont?

Published: 28 Jan 2014 15:000 comments

The Francois Hollande scandal has made for interesting reading following from a Northern Irish perspective.

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It seems so alien to me that the French public are so uninterested in their President’s affair with an actress.

You can’t help but think Peter Robinson would be envious of Hollande, looking back to 2010 and the hysteria around Mrs Robinson’s affair with 21-year-old Kirk McCambley, when he was 19. It captivated the news and public for months, provided comedians with material for the rest of the year, resulted in a spoof version of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’ and ultimately cost Peter Robinson his Westminster seat in East Belfast to Alliance’s Naomi Long. Yet in France, the residents of Paris seem unfazed believing strongly that a person’s romantic life truly should be private and is fully separate from a person’s public role.

Northern Irish people may be renowned for friendliness but I wonder to what degree is it being friendly or being nosey? We are an unashamedly gossipy bunch. My brother is on placement at a farm in Scotland for this year and has remarked at the difference between the Northern Irish and Scottish farmers. At home if farmer buys a new tractor for example he will be the talk of the mart with much speculation about how much money the farmer has or how he can afford a flashy new tractor possibly. In Scotland, apparently nothing is said, farmers just get on about their business.

Of course I am not leaving myself exempt although my defence is if I want to be a journalist, I’m going to have to make a living out of being nosey! Perhaps it is not all bad however and nosiness can often stem from a place of love or concern.

However perhaps as a public we need to push for more transparency not about the lives of our politicians but about the abysmal undemocratic secrecy that surrounds who exactly pulls the strings in Stormont; the matter of how our political parties are funded.

In Northern Ireland the only party that does not accept corporate donations (in order to avoid possibly being swayed in policy making by business interests) and declares all donations is the Green party. Although the Alliance party takes corporate donations they do declare these donations.

These two parties are on the fringes of Northern Irish politics and have very limited support in Co.Fermanagh. The DUP, UUP, SDLP and Sinn Fein remain tight lipped about where they get funding from.

Sinn Fein state that they are transparent and declare all donations due to publishing their income list online but crucially they do not indicate where or who has given the money, only the amounts donated.

It is particularly irksome that in Northern Ireland that we are denied the truth about donorship when it is taken into account that Northern Ireland is the only region in the United Kingdom that does not have full transparency about party funding.

Of course the situation in Northern Ireland is more dangerous with those defending secrecy pointing out that there still exists strong potential threats from parliamentary groups. However I can’t really imagine an Northern Ireland without some form of parliamentary or dissident activity. There is never going to be a perfect time much like the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Critics then and now argued that Northern Ireland wasn’t ready, that Sinn Fein could not be trusted to enter government but I find it ridiculous that anyone could genuinely feel that we would be better off as a country if the Good Friday Agreement hadn’t been signed.

It has given us 15 years of relatively strong stability and again there are those critics who tell those of us who are pushing for a more fairer and democratic Northern Ireland that we should be thankful that we have peace, that as long as soldiers don’t walk the streets and bombs aren’t going off we should shut up and not fight for justice in areas such as LGBT rights, women’s rights and indeed donor transparency.

My vision of Northern Ireland is not just a country free from war but a country where equality and social justice are at the heart of government, which is probably a bit of a pipe dream but a dream I will never stop fighting for.

Friends of the Earth in Northern Ireland launched a campaign calling for the end of donor secrecy in 2012, entitled ‘Who pulls the strings?’ pointing out that the health of the economy, environment and society demand a truly open democracy and that democracy should not have strings attached.

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