Northern Ireland news

Former Stormont spending watchdog deputy queries Ian Paisley's tax disclosure for luxury holidays

Ian Paisley and his family have enjoyed a number of overseas luxury holidays

IAN Paisley may be liable to pay tax on the overseas hospitality that the DUP MP and his family have enjoyed, the former deputy chairman of Stormont's spending watchdog has said.

SDLP MLA John Dallat recently contacted the head of HM Revenue & Customs seeking clarification of the taxable status of the paid-for luxury holidays the North Antrim MP and his family have taken.

In 2013, Mr Paisley and his family visited Sri Lanka twice with the south Asian island's government picking up the bill. When the Daily Telegraph broke the story about the luxury holidays, it valued the total cost at £100,000 – a figure disputed by the DUP MP.

In July last year, Mr Paisley was suspended from Westminster for an unprecedented 30-sitting days for failing to register the holidays.

He also carried out paid advocacy on behalf of the Sri Lankan regime, urging the then prime minister David Cameron not to support a UN investigation into human rights abuses during the country's civil war.

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In December, little over a fortnight after returning from his suspension, it emerged that Mr Paisley and his family travelled to the Maldives in 2016, again failing to inform the parliamentary authorities.

The MP said he paid for part of the luxury 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.

Mr Dallat contacted HMRC chief executive Jon Thompson in the wake of the latest revelations, raising questions about the holidays' taxable status.

While not breaching Mr Paisley's confidentiality, the response from HMRC outlined how an employee or office holder could be liable for paying tax on "anything they obtain from, or by reason of, their employment".

"This includes payments, or BiKs (benefits in kind), from third parties or from the employer," HMRC said.

"The amount of BiK chargeable is generally the cash equivalent of the cost of providing the benefit, although there are specific rules for valuing certain BiKs."

The response notes that hospitality of the sort enjoyed by Mr Paisley and his family "must not be in recognition of a particular service performed by the employee during their work".

Mr Dallat said it was "public knowledge" that the DUP MP lobbied on behalf of the Sri Lankan and Maldivian governments, therefore performing a service on their behalf.

"It may be that there is an argument for all elected representatives to file their tax returns online so that the public can check out any queries they have relating to the disclosure of how tax liability is filed and I would support that," the East Derry MLA said.

"The issues relating to Mr Paisley’s trips abroad is, of course, not judged alone on his ability to declare gifts or unearned income to HMRC but his identity with governments that have serious issues about human rights and their ability to lobby MPs in the British parliament."

Read more: Alex Kane: DUP should insist on Paisley's resignation (premium)

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