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Unionist MPs wined and dined at Rugby World Cup by firm axing 900 Northern Ireland jobs

By Lisa Smyth

Published 08/12/2015

Danny Kinahan and Ian Paisley attended a rugby match
Danny Kinahan and Ian Paisley attended a rugby match
Danny Kinahan attended a rugby match
Ian Paisley attended a rugby match
Mark Durkan visited Cuba

Two Northern Ireland MPs were treated to seats and hospitality at a Rugby World Cup game worth £1,650 each, thanks to cigarette manufacturers JTI Gallaher.

North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley and South Antrim UUP MP Danny Kinahan were wined and dined by the firm in October.

JTI Gallaher's factory in the heart of Mr Paisley's constituency, just outside Ballymena, Co Antrim, announced in January that it will shut the plant in 2017 with the loss of almost 900 jobs.

Both politicians estimated the value of the tickets and dinner for the England vs Australia match on October 3 at £1,650.

The information is contained in the Register of Members' Financial Interests, which provides details of gifts, donations, sources of income and any other business interests.

Mr Paisley said JTI remained a major employer in his constituency until it closes, and the firm's management asked him to attend along with a number of key personnel and customers.

Mr Kinahan said: "Many of my constituents are impacted by closures in North Antrim. I will continue to take any opportunity to discuss options that may help generate employment for South Antrim and Northern Ireland."

However, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson criticised both MPs, stating: "As Sinn Fein endeavour to fight against the power and devastation caused to citizens' health by big tobacco, unionist MPs are being wined and dined to the sum of £1,650 each by JTI.

"Both MPs claim to have the electorate's best interests at heart ... but I'm sure it would be more in line with their constituents' interests if they spent less time accepting lavish gifts and more time working to protect the health of their communities from the ravages of tobacco products."

According to the register, SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan travelled to Cuba for two days in October to meet with negotiators in the Colombian peace process.

The £2,400 trip was paid for by Justice for Colombia, established in 2002 by the British trade union movement in response to a human rights crisis in the South American country.

Meanwhile, UUP Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott has lodged details of his farm at Tullyrain and revealed he had not made any money from it in the last four years.

North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds also revealed he was paid £585 to write two columns for The Guardian in August. He said he donated the money to charity.

In July Northern Ireland's political parties at Westminster rejected plans to give all MPs a 10% pay rise, as recommended by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).

That will take their salary to almost £74,000. IPSA admitted that MPs' pay was a "toxic issue" but said the changes put in place would settle pay for a generation.

Earlier this year the Belfast Telegraph revealed that DUP MPs had the highest expenses bill in the whole of the UK.

Jim Shannon had the largest expenses, totalling more than £260,000.

Ian Paisley submitted a claim for £227,000.

They were among just five MPs who received more than £200,000 in allowances in the last year.

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