Northern Ireland news

Maldives allegations make it 'unthinkable' for Ian Paisley to meet Westminster's standards watchdog

Ian Paisley said he had contacted the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner's office to arrange a meeting

A FORMER chairman of Stormont's standards committee has said it would be "unthinkable" for Westminster's standards watchdog to meet Ian Paisley while concerns exist about the North Antrim MP's conduct.

Mr Paisley is at the centre of fresh allegations that he breached House of Commons rules after it was revealed that the DUP MP and his family travelled to the Maldives in 2016 but that the parliamentary authorities were not informed about the trip.

The claims in a BBC Spotlight programme came little over a fortnight after he returned from an unprecedented suspension from Westminster.

In the aftermath of Tuesday night's broadcast, a number of elected representatives have written to Westminster's standards watchdog, former Northern Ireland Victims' Commissioner Kathryn Stone, urging her to probe the DUP MP's conduct.

It was reported that Mr Paisley had contacted the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner's office to arrange a meeting to discuss the latest allegations.

Allison Morris: Ian Paisley's latest travel adventures reinforce the case for proper accountability in politics

But according to former SDLP MLA Declan O'Loan, who between 2009-2011 served two terms as chairman of the assembly's Committee on Standards and Privileges, Ms Stone was unlikely to agree to meet the North Antrim MP while doubts over his conduct exist.

"The commissioner performs a quasi-judicial function, so it would be unthinkable for her to meet Ian Paisley to discuss anything whatsoever to do with this matter," he told The Irish News.

"It is very important that Ms Stone is seen not to be prejudiced and the idea that Ian Paisley could walk into her office and talk about this matter is laughable."

Mr Paisley told the BBC he had discussed the Maldives trip with Ms Stone during her investigation into his Sri Lanka holidays and claimed that as a consequence, he had satisfied himself he did not need to register the holiday. He later told the BBC he hadn't spoken to Ms Stone but with the official who administers the members' register of interests.

Read More: DUP to examine claims over Ian Paisley's luxury family holiday to the Maldives

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has said it cannot comment on the matter or discuss whether it would be appropriate for Ms Stone to meet Mr Paisley.

The North Antrim MP was banned from Westminster in July for 30 sitting days after undertaking paid advocacy and failing to register two luxury family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2014, paid for by its government.

He was found to have lobbied on behalf of the Sr Lankan regime, urging the then prime minister David Cameron to reject calls for a UN probe into human rights abuses by the south Asia island's government.

Mr Paisley and his family travelled to the Maldives in 2016 months after the MP had visited the island on parliamentary business. He had argued against economic sanctions being taken against the Maldives over alleged human rights abuses.

He has 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 Westminster's register of interests.

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 July's 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.

The DUP has described the latest allegations as "very serious".

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