Northern Ireland news

DUP accuses Sinn Féin councillor of 'disrespecting' Ian Paisley in council payments row

DUP councillor Tommy Nicholl, DUP MP Ian Paisley, and Sinn Féin councillor Patrice Hardy
Brendan Hughes

A DUP councillor has accused a Sinn Féin councillor of 'disrespecting' Ian Paisley in a row over a £1,500 council payment towards a DUP dinner.

Tommy Nicholl made the remarks against Patrice Hardy for not using the MP's full name when speaking at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council (MEABC) on Monday night.

Ms Hardy said it was "typical of the DUP" to criticise her "rather than confront the issues at hand".

The council was discussing controversial plans to relax its spending policy after a probe found it broke its own rules in paying for a table at the dinner hosted by Mr Paisley.

MEABC had a spending limit of £500 on attending gala dinners or events, but most councillors backed removing the limit and allowing senior staff to decide on payments for future events involving officials without seeking councillors' approval.

SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan said the move means "much less transparency" over public spending, while Ms Hardy branded the change of policy "incredible".

But the DUP dismissed concerns as a "nothing story" and said senior staff should have discretion "to attend things that benefit council".

MEABC and another council each paid £1,500 towards the 2017 event in Ballymena which featured British environment secretary Michael Gove.

The payments are being investigated by the Electoral Commission because they are being treated as 'donations' to the North Antrim MP and councils are not considered "permissible donors".

NIAO also investigated and issued recommendations, including that MEABC should consider amending its policy.

The watchdog's internal report said the council "did not discuss its attendance at the dinner" in line with its own rules.

The revised policy went to full council for approval on Monday.

DUP MP Ian Paisley

A proposal by Mr O'Loan, seconded by Ms Hardy, to refer the policy back to committee for further consideration was rejected.

The early part of the meeting which included this discussion was not recorded due to a "technical issues with the audio system", a council spokeswoman said.

Mr Nicholl said yesterday he criticised Ms Hardy during the meeting for not showing respect towards Mr Paisley.

"I have sat and listened to her for quite some time over the last four years. I haven't reacted to her. I have given her a fool's pardon," he said.

"But last night, when she always keeps going on about showing respect for the Sinn Féin position, by the fact of calling Ian Paisley just 'Paisley', that really annoyed me.

"No matter what you think of a person they deserve respect – their mother and father gave them a name and that name should be respected."

Sinn Féin councillor Patrice Hardy

Ms Hardy said: "This is typical of the DUP. Rather than confront the issues at hand – namely Ian Paisley's involvement in one scandal after another – they would rather attack me."

She added: "We need greater transparency so that the ratepayers know what their money is being spent on."

Mr Paisley has faced months of criticism over issues including holidays in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. In July he was suspended from the British parliament after failing to declare two luxury family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013 paid for by its government, for which he later lobbied.

Meanwhile, Alliance has said one of its councillors voting against Mr O'Loan's proposal was a "genuine misunderstanding".

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long. Picture by Mal McCann

Alliance leader Naomi Long yesterday tweeted that the council's new policy was "utterly ridiculous", but she was "seeking clarification" on why Gerardine Mulvenna backed Mr O'Loan's amendment and Robert Logan voted against.

A party spokesman said Mr Logan's vote was a "moment of genuine misunderstanding" and Ms Mulvenna's position "fully reflects the party's on this matter".

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