Northern Ireland news

DUP denies 'double standards' on Ian Paisley probe over Maldives holiday

DUP MP Ian Paisley with party leader Arlene Foster and supporters in 2017. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

THE DUP has denied having "double standards" after six months without any public action over concerns about Ian Paisley holidaying in the Maldives.

Mr Paisley came under scrutiny for receiving a holiday at a luxury Maldives resort some months after advocating on behalf of its government.

When the controversy arose in December, the DUP said "party officers will want to consider these very serious matters".

Six months on, it remains unclear what action was taken by party officials to examine the issue.

By contrast, the party swiftly suspended a councillor for six months in an apparent response to issues resulting from May's local government election campaign.

Adrian McQuillan expressed disappointment at his suspension, telling The Irish News: "It's one rule for one, one rule for another – it depends on who you are."

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Meanwhile, DUP MLA Jim Wells – who lost the party whip last year for criticising the leadership in the media – has not faced further sanction over comments about the party's first openly gay councillor, Alison Bennington.

DUP leader Arlene Foster had said the party would be "looking at bad behaviour" after Mr Wells had criticised during the election campaign the selection of a gay candidate.

The DUP insisted all members are treated "fairly and equally".

However, it said discipline is an "internal party matter" and it would "not give a running commentary".

In December, Mr Paisley faced criticism after a BBC Spotlight investigation on his luxury Maldives holiday.

The North Antrim MP, his wife and two sons received full-board five-night stay at the resort in 2016, some months after he was part of a controversial parliamentary visit to the islands – at a time when the Maldives government was being criticised by the UN and Commonwealth for human rights abuses.

A Westminster standards watchdog was urged to investigate but Mr Paisley denied any wrongdoing, insisting it was a private family vacation paid for by himself and a friend unconnected to his work.

It emerged just months after 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.

He was also suspended from the DUP at the time of the sanction in late July.

Mr McQuillan, a Causeway Coast and Glens councillor, was suspended from the DUP this month in a move linked to the use of election material during last month's council poll.

The former MLA yesterday said he did not wish to focus on specific individuals, but raised concerns about a "two-tier party".

"I just think the party, the way they have handled my case, they have done it very quickly but they haven't done other ones like that, and the suspension I got was very severe compared to what others got," he said.

Mr McQuillan said that "somebody looking in would think it's double standards".

The councillor said he is consulting with his solicitor, and insisted he will "not be pushed out" of the party.

The DUP was asked if party officers have now considered the Maldives matter, and for its response to claims of double standards.

A party spokesman said: "Ian Paisley MP was suspended from the party on July 24 2018 for 57 days. He was readmitted to membership, with conditions, on September 18 2018. Amongst other sanctions, was a ban on holding office in the party for 12 months.

"Discipline is an internal party matter. We do not give a running commentary. All members are treated fairly and equally."

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