Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Ian Paisley in Gibraltar as watchdog mulls Sri Lanka claims

By Suzanne Breen

Ian Paisley has spent the weekend in Gibraltar as he awaits a decision by Parliament's standards watchdog on whether she will investigate claims he didn't declare luxury holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

The DUP MP has totally denied the allegations, which he says are "devoid of fact or logic".

He visited the Rock to take part in celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, when the inhabitants voted to remain a part of the UK and reject Spanish sovereignty.

Mr Paisley posted pictures on social media of himself arriving at Gibraltar International Airport on Saturday where he also posed for photographs with Northern Ireland fans. He then met members of the Royal Navy on board HMS Diamond. Later he attended a concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

He tweeted a picture of himself at the celebration with Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan, Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and its mayor - former Miss World Kaiane Lopez.

He also posted photographs of himself with Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, and being interviewed by Gibraltar TV.

Mr Paisley has reported himself to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Hudson over claims that he didn't declare £100,000 in hospitality from the Sri Lankans.

A report in the Daily Telegraph last week claimed he took his family on two all-expenses-paid holidays to the island in 2013.

The paper said that he had recently met Sri Lanka officials to discuss possible post-Brexit trade deals.

The DUP MP said the report was "devoid of fact or logic" and was "defamatory".

He tweeted an image of a letter from his solicitor Paul Tweed. It said: "My client totally denies the defamatory inferences arising from the article in today's Daily Telegraph including those relating to his registration obligations as an MP. He has now referred this matter, and a full explanation, to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards."

The Daily Telegraph reported that the Paisley family flew business class to Sri Lanka twice in 2013 and stayed in luxurious hotels. It estimated the total worth of the trips was about £100,000 and alleged that the cost and expenses were paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

The House of Commons code of conduct states that MPs must declare any visit to a destination outside the UK which "relates in any way to their membership of the house or to their parliamentary or political activities" and which costs more than £300, unless they have paid for it themselves or out of parliamentary or party funds.

The rules state that MPs do not have to register family holidays, so long as they are "wholly unconnected with membership of the house or with the member's parliamentary or political activities".

Entries in the register of members' interests should cover the cost of travel, hotels, meals, hospitality and car hire, and repeat visits should be registered if their combined value comes to more than £300.

Mr Paisley's register entries include a trade mission to Sri Lanka in 2012, as well as a second trip to the island that year as part of a cross-party parliamentary delegation examining post-war reconstruction, funded to the tune of £3,200 by the Colombo government. There is no mention of the alleged trips in 2013.

Ms Hudson is expected to announce this week if she will investigate the claims about Mr Paisley.

She must decide if it is within her remit and if there is sufficient evidence to commence an investigation.

Duncan Hames, policy director at Transparency International UK, said: "These are very serious allegations, and the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner should make investigating them a top priority."

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