Northern Ireland news

Ian Paisley's Maldives' holidays set to spark fresh probes by Westminister and DUP

Ian Paisley took his seat on the NI Affairs Committee but remained silent on the latest Spotlight allegations

IAN Paisley looks likely to face a renewed probe into his conduct by Westminster's standards watchdog, coupled with potential sanctions imposed by DUP headquarters, following fresh revelations about his luxury overseas holidays.

The North Antrim MP was yesterday staying silent on the latest claims in a BBC Spotlight programme about two holidays in the Maldives that have not been declared on the MP's register of interests. The programme reported that a holiday Mr Paisley took with his family in 2016 was paid for by a member of the Maldivian government.

Spotlight also unearthed details of a previous holiday taken by the North Antrim MP and his family in 2014.

The latest revelations were contained in a follow-up to a programme last December in which the Paisley family's 2016 holiday was first disclosed.

It is thought that those initial allegations about the Maldives' holiday, which came just weeks after the DUP MP had completed a 30-sitting day suspension from Westminster for previous misconduct, prompted a series of complaints to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone.

The revelations in Tuesday night's programme have led to further complaints to the watchdog, however, procedures introduced last year prevent the naming of MPs under investigation.

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Mr Paisley, who yesterday took his seat on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster, was suspended from the House of Commons last July after a two-year probe into claims in the Daily Telegraph that his family had enjoyed luxury holidays in Sri Lanka paid for by its government. He was found to have failed to declare the holidays as specified in MPs rules and to have carried out paid advocacy on behalf of the Sri Lankan regime.

When the allegations were first published, the North Antrim MP pledged to take legal action against the newspaper.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said yesterday she hadn't seen the programme but conceded it raised "serious issues" which she said would be considered by party officers.

The party said it suspended Mr Paisley for 57 days over the Sri Lankan episode before he was readmitted to the party with conditions, including that he would not hold office for 12 months.

A DUP spokesman said: "We require high standards from our elected representatives.

"Discipline is an internal party matter – we do not give a running commentary."

Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew said the latest revelations raised "serious questions".

“The DUP and Ian Paisley cannot continue to treat the public like fools," she said.

Her party colleague Philip McGuigan MLA, a North Antrim constituent, confirmed that he has asked for a formal investigation into the latest claims by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

"Another tearful mea culpa apology from Ian Paisley just isn’t going to be enough," he said.

"These allegations are gravely serious and they need to be treated as such by the authorities and Ian Paisley’s own party."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he had also referred Mr Paisley to the standards watchdog.

“Ian Paisley’s Maldives jetsetting has already disgraced his office and earned him a record suspension from Westminster – these new revelations further degrade his reputation and they degrade trust in politics," he said.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said he had written to Ms Stone's office, as did Alliance chief whip Kellie Armstrong.

"As a North Antrim elected representative it is disappointing that my constituency is yet again in the news headlines for all the wrong reasons because of the actions of Ian Paisley MP," Mr Swann said.

Ms Armstrong said: "If we are to regain the trust of the wider public in politics, there must be full openness and transparency from all.

"The people of North Antrim and wider want clean politics and I am confident they will show that if a recall petition is confirmed."

TUV leader Jim Allister said he was concerned about the damage the allegations would cause to "Unionism plc".

"Such self-inflicted injury is not what we need or expect from a unionist MP," he said.

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