Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Arlene Foster confirms Parliament watchdog investigation into Ian Paisley holiday claims

The DUP’s Ian Paisley
The DUP’s Ian Paisley
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said Ian Paisley was under investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for a second time.

Ian Paisley, however, said as parliament was dissolved for the election, there was currently no investigation.

It comes after allegations were made in June in a BBC Spotlight investigation over trips he took to the Maldives, one of which it is claimed was paid for by a former minister in the Indian Ocean nation's government.

It was claimed Mr Paisley should have registered the visit with Commons officials. He rejected any wrongdoing saying the holiday was taken in a personal capacity and was not paid for by the Maldivian government, but partly out of his own pocket and partly by a friend.

He did not name the friend, but said that the friend was unconnected with his work and has received no benefit as a result of his work.

Following a separate inquiry last year, Mr Paisley was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days for “serious misconduct”.

The watchdog ruled the North Antrim Westminster candidate breached Commons rules on paid advocacy by writing to the PM to lobby against a UN resolution on Sri Lanka without disclosing family holidays paid for by their Government in 2013.

He later survived Parliament’s first ever recall petition. A total of 7,099 signed the petition to force a byelection - which was just 444 votes of the required 10% threshold to bring about a new poll.

The latest allegations prompted several parties to report Mr Paisley again to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Under previous parliamentary rules, all MPs under investigation were listed on the Commissioner's official website.

In July 2018, however, MPs voted in favour of giving anonymity to MPs under investigation, citing "consistency and fairness" to those who may later be found to have committed no wrongdoing.

When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, a spokesperson for the Commissioner said they could neither confirm or deny if a probe has been launched into Mr Paisley.

Speaking on the BBC's The View programme on Thursday night, however, Arlene Foster admitted an investigation was ongoing.

"The parliamentary authorities are investigating that matter and we have to deal with all of those issues," she said.

The DUP leader would not reveal whether an internal probe by the party is being carried out.

"Due process has to be followed in all of these issues... Ian Paisley is a candidate in this election, he has worked very hard in North Antrim, he is a strong candidate and he has delivered a lot, including for Wrightbus," she said.

"I will not be commenting on internal matters."

In a statement, Ian Paisley said he did not see the programme.

He added: "There is currently no investigation by the parliamentary standards committee. I am not aware of any BBC complaint against me.

"As parliament has been dissolved there is currently no investigation."

After the allegations were made in June, a DUP spokesperson said party officers would "consider these matters within the context of our disciplinary process and any other relevant authority".

"Ian Paisley MP was suspended from the party for 57 days. He was readmitted to membership, with conditions. Amongst other sanctions, was a ban on holding office in the party for 12 months. That ban is still in place," they added.

"We require high standards from our elected representatives. Discipline is an internal party matter. We do not give a running commentary."

UUP leader Steve Aiken said: “Given that Arlene Foster has publicly stated that an investigation is under way into Ian Paisley’s activities whilst he was an MP, certain questions are raised.

“The most obvious one is, what is this investigation into? This is a very fair question given that he has already served a 30 day suspension for failing two declare two holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan Government and lobbying on its behalf.”

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