Northern Ireland news

Council adopts events spending policy after Ian Paisley dinner probe

DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley
Brendan Hughes

A COUNCIL has adopted a policy on paying to attend events following an Audit Office probe over spending £1,500 on a table at a DUP dinner hosted by Ian Paisley.

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council (CCGBC) now requires councillors' approval to spend more than £2,000 to take part in external hospitality events.

The policy also prompts councillors and officials to consider whether it is an "appropriate use of public money", asking if it is a "political fundraising event" or "party political".

Spending of up to £500 can be approved by a director while payments above this need senior management team consent.

The council and neighbouring Mid and East Antrim Borough Council (MEABC) were both issued with Audit Office recommendations after the spending watchdog was asked to examine how each paid £1,500 towards a DUP event.

It was held at Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena in September 2017 and was attended by British government environment secretary Michael Gove.

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

Last week The Irish News revealed an internal Audit Office report found MEABC broke its own £500 spending limit policy when it attended the event.

The council now plans to remove the limit and allow senior staff to decide on payments for events involving officials without seeking councillors' approval - proposals that have prompted transparency concerns.

CCGBC had no previous policy, but following Audit Office recommendations it adopted new criteria in November.

Sinn Féin councillor Cara McShane said of CCGBC's new policy: "It is essential that every penny of ratepayers' money is accounted for, and this additional mechanism definitely helps to do so.

"Accountability, good governance and transparency needs to be at the heart of local government.

"While this might not be the panacea to everything, we will continue to review it."

The 2017 dinner has been among several DUP events featuring senior Conservatives held since the parties forged their confidence-and-supply deal at Westminster.

Last month Mr Paisley co-hosted a party fundraiser which featured leading Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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