Belfast Telegraph

DUP MP Paisley claims he 'put himself out' to fly first class to New York charity event 'at last minute'

The DUP MP has hit out at criticism over the 6k trip, saying it is part of a "media witch-hunt" against him.

DUP MP Ian Paisley has claimed he flew first class to a charity event in New York because he was invited "at the last minute".

The North Antrim representative travelled to New York in February 2018 to participate at a seminar about Northern Ireland's peace process on the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

According to the House of Commons register of interests, he received £6,327.34 to cover a £5,925.11 flight and £402.23 for accommodation from the peace building charity Co-operation Ireland.

However, Mr Paisley has hit out at the criticism he has received, saying it is part of a "media witch-hunt" against him.

Speaking to the Ballymena Guardian, Mr Paisley said: "All the travel costs were pre-approved by Co-operation Ireland. I was asked at the last minute by Co-operation Ireland to speak at this event as another speaker had unexpectedly become unavailable. I was asked to attend just a couple of days before travelling.

"Initially I refused as I could not make the time work as I was in parliament the day before and the day after the event and I had unbreakable engagements in my constituency.

"The organisers said they would fly me back immediately. I was there for 24 hours. I understand that all the costs were met by the charity sponsor of the event and not from charity funds. I certainly did not bill for my services.

"The organisation paid for the travel directly and agreed everything in advance. I put myself out to be there for less than a day to help complete their conference panel."

Mr Paisley, who is also under scrutiny following a BBC Spotlight investigation over a trip his family took to the Maldives in 2016 and whether he should have declared it to the House of Commons, also hit out at "silly comments" from opposition politicians.

"Those silly politicians who jumped on this forget that the costings for all the other attending guest speakers were agreed weeks before and most, indeed all, stayed for several days of the week long conference," he said.

"The comparison made of costs of my last minute arrangement for just a matter of hours in the country and those who were there for several days is just inaccurate.

"However, I've come to expect this from the media and frankly believe the public have more important things to be concerned about."

Others who attended the event, including Ireland’s deputy premier Simon Coveney flew economy on the budget airline Norwegian Air.

His expenses were covered by the Irish Government.

Cooperation Ireland has not commented on the matter.

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