Northern Ireland news

Ian Paisley faces second Westminster probe in as many years over unregistered luxury holidays

Ian Paisley said the Maldives' government did not pay for his family holiday in 2016

IAN Paisley is facing a fresh probe by Westminster's standards watchdog just weeks after returning from an unprecedented suspension from the House of Commons.

Little over a fortnight after the end of his 30-sitting day suspension that triggered the first recall petition in parliamentary history, it has emerged that the North Antrim MP and his family travelled to the Maldives in 2016 but that the parliamentary authorities were not informed about the trip.

Mr Paisley was suspended from Westminster in July for paid advocacy and failing to register two luxury family holidays in Sri Lanka.

After he and his family holidayed on the south Asian island in 2014, he later went on to lobby on behalf of its regime, writing to the then prime minister David Cameron urging him to reject calls for a UN probe into human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

The DUP has described the latest allegations contained in Tuesday night's BBC Spotlight programme as "very serious". A spokesman said party officers would be investigating the claims.

In a statement in response to the programme, Mr Paisley said: "The government of the Maldives did not organise or pay for my family vacation in 2016, which I do not intend to go into with you.

"I'm satisfied the vacation did not have to be recorded on the register."

Mr Paisley said yesterday that he had contacted the the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner's office to arrange a meeting to discuss the latest allegations.

Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan has written to Westminster's standards commissioner Kathryn Stone asking her to launch an investigation.

"The public is entitled to know who paid for this holiday and why Ian Paisley had not registered the trip with the authorities at Westminster," he said.

"Questions also arise about Ian Paisley's relationship with the government of the Maldives, which had been criticised by the UN over allegations of human rights abuses."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and his Ulster Unionist counterpart Robin Swann have also wrote letters to Westminster's standards committee and standards commissioner respectively, urging them to probe the claims against the North Antrim MP.

Mr Eastwood said there was "widespread concern" that Mr Paisley had failed to disclose the identity of the person who paid for elements of the trip.

Mr Swann said the DUP needed to be open about when they learned of the fresh allegations.

"They cannot simply hide behind a statement saying they will investigate – this is yet another stain on North Antrim and the reputation of politics in Northern Ireland," he said.

It is unknown whether commissioner Kathryn Stone intends to launch an investigation, as she is prevented from publicly confirming details of any probe until it concludes.

TUV leader Jim Allister said he was not so much concerned for Mr Paisley but for the "political damage of this for unionism".

Tuesday night's programme claimed a Paisley family holiday to the Maldives in autumn 2016 was paid for its government.

The trip came months after Mr Paisley travelled to the Indian Ocean island nation on parliamentary business. He had argued against sanctions being taken against the Maldives over alleged human rights abuses.

Mr Paisley denied the holiday was paid for by the authorities in the Maldives and said he was satisfied he did not need to declare the trip on the register of interests at Westminster.

The MP said he paid for part of the holiday himself, while the rest was paid for by a long-term friend who was unconnected to his work. He declined to reveal the identity of the friend.

The North Antrim MP narrowly avoided facing a by-election earlier this year after the recall petition triggered by his suspension fell 444 signatures short of the required threshold.

He was suspended from the DUP pending a party investigation into the Sri Lankan controversy but the censure was subsequently lifted.

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