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Northern Ireland news

Questions raised over Belfast International Airport sponsoring DUP dinner

From left, South Antrim MP Paul Girvan, Cllr John Finlay, MLA Sammy Wilson, Tory MP Pretti Patel, MP Ian Paisley Jnr, and MP Jim Shannon

QUESTIONS have been raised over a DUP fundraising dinner that was sponsored by Belfast International Airport.

The £1500-a-table gala dinner was held at the Galgorm Resort in Ballymena and featured former Tory cabinet minister Priti Patel as a speaker.

Sinn Féin suggested that the sponsorship gives the perception that the airport is giving the DUP "partisan support".

In social media posts, it was referred to as the "Annual North Antrim DUP dinner" by MLA Paul Frew and MP Sammy Wilson.

Former MLA Phillip Logan wrote: "When you hold the responsibility for unionism that my party does, it’s important the war chest is always ready for battle – there is no other show in town, therefore we need to be prepared. Fundraisers do help."

Speaking to The Irish News, Sinn Féin national chairman Declan Kearney said clarification was needed as the sponsorship "throws up the perception of partisan support".

"I will also be writing to the airport's ultimate owners, Airports Worldwide, whose HQ is in Houston, asking them if they are content, or even aware, of this relationship between one of their subsidiaries and a party which is denying equal rights for all citizens in the north," he added.

A spokesperson for Belfast International Airport said: "We support all our political parties where it is clear the events they organise, or are a part of, are to the benefit of the airport."

It is understood the airport has in the past supported various events held by different political parties.

In 2016, the boss of Belfast International Airport, Graham Keddie, was appointed to the board of Tourism Ireland by then-DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton, two weeks after he had publicly criticised the organisation.

Others who were invited to Friday's event, however, have claimed it was not advertised to them as a DUP event.

In an invitation letter sent to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, a PR firm said the airport was "sponsoring the dinner", but it did not state it was a DUP dinner.

Several councillors, including the TUV’s Timothy Gaston and Ulster Unionist Lindsay Millar, said it was not made clear that the event was a DUP fundraiser and, if council had paid for representatives to attend the event, ratepayers would effectively be financing the DUP.

This is not the first time such events have came under scrutiny at the Mid and East Antrim council.

In October, its chief executive, Anne Donaghy, faced questions after attending a gala dinner featuring Michael Gove that was referred to by one attendee as a "north Antrim DUP business dinner".

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