Northern Ireland news

Ian Paisley tells Irish News he needed £6k US flight tickets because of shortness of trip

THE DUP’s Ian Paisley has told The Irish News he needed to fly to the US at a cost of almost £6,000 to a charity because of the shortness of his trip.

The North Antrim MP responded on Wednesday night after this paper had revealed details of the bill to attend a peace conference marking 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

Others travelling to the Cooperation Ireland event from Ireland and Britain, including Tánaiste Simon Coveney and former SDLP leader Mark Durkan, flew economy class – at less than a tenth of the cost of Mr Paisley’s return flights.

The Irish News understands that he flew first class, but he says it was a business-class ticket.

Asked on Wednesday to justify the cost of his attendance, he said the organisers invited him “and agreed in advance the arrangements and paid for them directly”.

“My engagements at either side in London and my constituency, the shortness of time in New York city explain the costs of a business class flight,” he said.

“Everything was agreed with the organiser in advance and paid directly to the service providers.”

The MP has previously said he travelled “at the last minute” last February, having been asked to attend “just a couple of days before”. The Irish News revealed on Wednesday that he was confirmed as a conference participant a fortnight earlier.

Correspondence sent from Cooperation Ireland on February 1 to participants stated that the charity would “reimburse your coach (economy) class airfare”.

Mr Paisley also said he was asked to join the panel after somebody else pulled out, although The Irish News understands he was the organisers’ only choice as a DUP representative.

He has said he had business at Westminster and in his constituency on either side of the US trip, attending a DUP fundraiser in Ballymena on his return where former Tory cabinet minister Priti Patel was a guest speaker.

On Wednesday night the DUP distanced itself from the North Antrim MP, who in July last year was suspended from Westminster for 30 sitting days after failing to register two luxury family holidays in Sri Lanka paid for by its government.

“Ian Paisley attended this event in a personal capacity and registered the associated costs paid by Cooperation Ireland as required,” a spokesman said.

“The party was not involved in making any of these arrangements.”

It has also emerged that Mr Paisley attended a recent Westminster launch of a report by campaign group Open Doors highlighting the persecution of Christians worldwide. It confirms that two governments he has lobbied for in recent years – Sri Lanka and the Maldives – continue to rank among the worst offenders.

The DUP MP had argued against economic sanctions being taken against the Maldives, which he visited in 2016, over alleged human rights abuses.

Mr Paisley told The Irish News on Wednesday night: “It is possible to understand and encourage political and economic developments in foreign countries and at the same time object to the treatment of minority faith groups there.”

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