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Political parties to be banned from accepting donations through cryptocurrencies

Integrity rules are aimed at preventing Russian interference in Irish elections


Service members of pro-Russian troops drive armoured vehicles during Ukraine-Russia conflict near the southern port city of Mariupol

Service members of pro-Russian troops drive armoured vehicles during Ukraine-Russia conflict near the southern port city of Mariupol

Service members of pro-Russian troops drive armoured vehicles during Ukraine-Russia conflict near the southern port city of Mariupol

Parties will be banned from accepting financial donations through cryptocurrencies under new political integrity rules being drafted over fears of Russian interference in Irish elections.

Stricter rules on all foreign donations are also being introduced along with requirements for parties to give full details of their property portfolios as part of a significant shake-up of electoral legislation.

The soon-to-be-established Electoral Commission will also be given the power to issue take-down notices to social media companies and issue clarifications about online misinformation.

Local Government Minister Darragh O’Brien, who has responsibility for electoral reform, wrote to party leaders setting out a range of measures he is introducing which aim to counteract foreign meddling in Irish votes.

Mr O’Brien said he will be proposing amendments to the Electoral Reform Bill 2022 to protect against malicious online interference while also overhauling political funding laws to prevent foreign interference in how parties or individuals are financially supported.

“The appalling invasion of the Ukraine and insidious disinformation war highlight the ongoing fundamental threats faced by all democracies,” he said.

He added the Cabinet has agreed to the new measures which are aimed at protecting “our democratic system given the escalating threat of cyber warfare targeting free countries”.

In January, Mr O’Brien asked Attorney General Paul Gallagher to establish a taskforce made up of legal experts and political scientists to examine the need for new election integrity laws.

He said the group was established due to “serious concerns” over the deteriorating security situation in Eastern Europe and the “well-documented escalation of cyber attacks on democratic states over the past several years”.

He said the taskforce proposed a “comprehensive set of recommendations to build a legal and digital bulwark against malign interference in our elections”.

This includes giving the Electoral Commission power to issue take-down notices and real-time alerts of potential election interference during campaigns. The commission will also have an “online advisory board” consisting of technical experts who will advise on live cyber threats during election campaigns.

The commission will also be responsible for fact-checking content issued during campaigns and will publish clarifications on any content considered disinformation or misinformation. A new code of conduct and legal obligations for social media companies is also being developed.

Proposed political financing laws will see a strengthening of the rules on parties receiving foreign donations. All parties will have to provide consolidated accounts in line with international standards and best practice on accountancy.

Party leaders will also be asked to sign declarations stating that their parties are adhering to the new laws on political funding.

Mr O’Brien said the legislative amendments will include measures seeking “full transparency on political parties’ property portfolio”.

Government parties have long raised questions about the amount of properties owned by Sinn Féin.

“I will engage with constructive, practical suggestions to further these objectives of copper-fastening the defence of our democracy in the face of autocratic aggression in Europe,” Mr O’Brien said.

“In light of the urgency of the challenges, I aim, with your co-operation, to pass this legislation and have the new Electoral Commission established by the summer recess.”

Once established, the Electoral Commission will assume the functions of the Referendum Commission, the Registrar of Political Parties, the Constituency Commission and Local Electoral Area Boundary Committees.

It will also issue guidelines and rules on online political advertising, including requirements for parties to clearly state how ads are funded and who they are targeted at.

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