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Sinn Féin says Venezuela's electoral watchdog paid for visit by two MPs

Michelle O'Neill said the 'electoral commission' arranged for two Sinn Féin MPs to travel to Venezuela. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

SINN Féin has said Venezuela's electoral watchdog paid for two of its MPs to visit the South American country during controversial elections.

In two separate radio interviews yesterday, Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said visits by Mickey Brady in 2017 and Chris Hazzard last year were arranged by the "electoral commission".

The Mid Ulster MLA did not specify that she was referring to Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) – National Electoral Council.

Sinn Féin's Francie Molly said his two fellow MPs travelled to Venezuela as members of "delegations of international observers including journalists, diplomats, trade unionists, US politicians, academics and economists" and that CNE met the cost of the trips.

The elections saw Nicolás Maduro returned as president. However, the US and most western governments recognise opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president.

Mr Maduro is under growing internal and international pressure to call early presidential elections amid a worsening economic crisis and accusations of widespread corruption and human rights violations.

Mr Molloy said there was "no payment and no personal gain involved" for the Sinn Féin representatives who travelled to Venezuela.

“Comments about integrity from the DUP are laughable in the context of the RHI scandal, Red Sky and Nama,” he added.

The DUP has urged an investigation into the failure of Sinn Féin MPs to declare the trips at Westminster.

On Tuesday, DUP MP Gregory Campbell asked House of Commons deputy speaker Rosie Winterton to clarify if non-sitting Sinn Féin members could face sanctions.

She said the requirement to register financial interests applies equally to all members though the party has indicated that it has no plans to register the trips.

Mr Brady said: "Sinn Féin MPs do not take their seats and don't receive a salary from Westminster.

"Sinn Féin will discuss this issue with the parliamentary commissioner."

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