Northern Ireland news

Council was asked to send 'DUP dinner' cheque to Ian Paisley's office

DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley and Mid and East Antrim council chief executive Anne Donaghy
Brendan Hughes

A COUNCIL was asked by Ian Paisley to send a £1,500 cheque to his constituency office to pay a hotel for a table at a "DUP business dinner".

Mid and East Antrim chief executive Anne Donaghy is facing questions over the council paying to attend the North Antrim MP's annual constituency dinner last September.

The DUP has previously denied that the event, attended by British government environment secretary Michael Gove, was a fundraiser for the party.

But some councillors branded it a "DUP dinner" and "expressly party political", claiming they were not properly informed of the DUP's role when Ms Donaghy proposed the event.

At the time it was presented to councillors in Mid and East Antrim as a "major business in the community event", with Ms Donaghy saying it would be a "chance to shape forthcoming agriculture policies".

But questions were raised after a DUP councillor described the Tullyglass House Hotel event as a "DUP business dinner".

It has now emerged that Ms Donaghy was sent a letter by Mr Paisley about the event, describing it as his "annual constituency dinner".

The letter asks for a £1,500 cheque for a table of 10 guests made payable to the Tullyglass hotel to be sent to Mr Paisley's constituency office in Ballymena.

The letter was obtained by Sinn Féin councillor Patrice Hardy.

It comes amid questions over a DUP fundraising dinner last month at Galgorm Resort in Ballymena, which featured former Tory cabinet minister Priti Patel as a speaker.

Similar to September's event, the dinner was £1,500 per table and was sponsored by Belfast International Airport.

An invitation was sent to Mid and East Antrim council, but it was declined.

Several councillors said the invitation did not make clear the event was a DUP fundraiser.

There were heated exchanges during Monday night's council meeting as some councillors were disallowed by the mayor from asking questions about the dinners.

Ms Hardy tried to raise her correspondence but the mayor, the DUP's Paul Reid, said it was against standing orders and her microphone was switched off.

Ms Hardy told The Irish News the "DUP and the chief executive have serious questions to answer".

"I will be contacting the local government auditor and requesting an investigation is conducted into this matter," she said.

The DUP did not respond to requests for a comment.

Mid and East Antrim council said it received an invitation to a "North Antrim annual business and community dinner hosted and facilitated by Ian Paisley MP, with special guest Rt Hon Michael Gove, MP, Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs, and sponsored by Belfast International Airport".

A spokesman said: "Elected members at full council in August 2017 agreed to purchase this table and the event was attended by elected members from different political parties, senior officers and representatives from the agri-food sector across the borough to avail of the opportunity to discuss first-hand with the minister their issues and concerns in relation to the agri-food sector post-Brexit.

"Council was requested to make payment to The Tullyglass Hotel and did so via electronic payment."

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