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Northern Ireland news

Jamie Bryson attends DUP fundraiser involving Jacob Rees-Mogg

Ian Paisley greets Jacob Rees Mogg as he arrives for the DUP fundraiser at the Tullyglass hotel in Ballymena. Picture by Declan Roughan
Brendan Hughes

LOYALIST blogger Jamie Bryson was among the guests at a DUP fundraiser involving chief Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Various DUP politicians, Brexit-backing businessman Arron Banks and Bernie Smyth of anti-abortion campaign group Precious Life also attended the event in the Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena last night, which was hosted by DUP MPs Ian Paisley, Sammy Wilson and Paul Girvan.

Around 400 guests gathered in the hotel's banqueting suite for the £25-a-head event, which was billed as an 'evening with Jacob Rees-Mogg' and included a "cooked buffet supper".

British prime minister Theresa May's minority government is propped up by a 'confidence and supply' deal with the DUP, which sees its 10 MPs support the Conservatives on key Commons votes.

The pact following 2017's Westminister election was worth an extra £1bn for Northern Ireland, of which around half has been provided so far.

Arriving at the fundraiser, Tory MP and prominent backbencher Mr Rees-Mogg said he was attending to "support the coalition partners of the Conservative Party in Westminster" and "people with whom I have worked very closely in the whole Brexit debate".

Read More: Jacob Rees-Mogg's involvement in DUP fundraiser 'frustrating' says Northern Ireland Tory

He said he would not be visiting the border on this trip to Northern Ireland, but said he has done so previously.

Asked whether it was appropriate to attend the fundraiser given Mr Paisley's recent parliamentary suspension, Mr Rees-Mogg dismissed concerns.

He told The Irish News: "His constituents had the opportunity to have a recall vote and they decided not to use it.

"He is the democratically elected member of parliament for this constituency, he belongs to a party supporting the Conservatives and maintaining the Conservative government. No, I'm delighted to be here."

In July Mr Paisley received an unprecedented 30-day suspension from the House of Commons after failing to declare two luxury family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013 paid for by its government, for which he later lobbied.

The North Antrim MP is also facing a parliamentary probe over a holiday in the Maldives, and was criticised in recent weeks for billing a peace charity for a luxury flight to New York to speak at a conference.

Mr Paisley declined to speak to The Irish News at last night's event.

Jamie Bryson arrives for the DUP fundraiser at the Tullyglass hotel in Ballymena. Picture by Declan Roughan

Arriving at the hotel, Mr Bryson told The Irish News he was attending "to hear Jacob Rees-Mogg and to support Mr Paisley".

The former flag protester said Mr Rees-Mogg "has been a strong advocate of Brexit".

"It's great to have Jacob Rees-Mogg over, and certainly I would hope he is the next prime minister," he said.

Mr Rees-Mogg's involvement in a DUP fundraiser has faced criticism from Conservative Party members in Northern Ireland.

Frank Shivers from the North Down Conservative association said he has written to Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis to express his concern.

"I am frustrated and disappointed," he said. "We are running candidates for a local election on May 2 and a senior party colleague is raising money for the DUP."

Mr Rees-Mogg's Conservative colleague Peter Bone is due to speak at another DUP fundraiser this month.

The event in Strangford is being organised by DUP MP Jim Shannon, who has said that any money raised will be split evenly between the DUP and Elim Missions.

Mr Bone, Tory MP for Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, previously told The Irish News he was unaware the event was a fundraiser when he accepted an invitation to speak, but he is still planning to attend.

Several senior Tories have taken part in DUP events since the parties struck their 'confidence-and-supply' deal.

Defence secretary Gavin Williamson attended an event in Fermanagh last September, while environment secretary Michael Gove took part in a DUP dinner hosted by Ian Paisley at Tullyglass Hotel in 2017.

The dinner involving Mr Gove is being investigated by the Electoral Commission due to two councils each paying £1,500 for tables at the event.

The watchdog is treating the payments as 'donations' to the North Antrim MP, and is investigating because local authorities are not considered "permissible donors".

The DUP has previously denied the event was a party fundraiser.

In September, a Conservative councillor said Mr Gove had apologised for attending the dinner and was unaware it was a party fundraiser.

Mr Paisley has previously defended the event, saying that his "annual community and business engagement dinner in Ballymena was very successful and enjoyed by all who attended".

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