Belfast Telegraph

I wasn't talking big in oil deal email, it was just an effort to help out: Paisley

By Victoria Leonard

Ian Paisley has said he was "being helpful" and denied he was acting as a broker in an email exchange in which he told a Sri Lankan official that he had "two significant arrangements with national oil suppliers in either Oman or Nigeria".

Mr Paisley has been banned from the House of Commons for 30 sitting days for failing to declare two 2013 family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

In July a parliamentary watchdog found that a year after the luxury holidays Mr Paisley lobbied then Prime Minister David Cameron not to support a UN probe into alleged Sri Lankan human rights abuses.

Last month Mr Paisley survived a bid to oust him from his North Antrim seat after a recall petition fell short of the 10% of constituents needed to force a by-election.

In an interview with BBC Talkback yesterday, he addressed the failure of the petition, saying that while haters will always hate, he puts his continued public service down to his work delivering for everyone he meets.

Mr Paisley also said he "disagrees with about 10% of the findings" of the parliamentary inquiry into his conduct, but accepted the ruling.

He said: "I did not deliberately hide the holiday, I was wrong in not declaring it, I failed to do that, hands up, I apologise.

"Their read across a year later that this letter (to Mr Cameron) somehow was to do with that holiday and was some sort of paid advocacy as a result of that. I've said: 'That's not what it was about but that is your finding'.

"I have apologised for it. When you are accused of something and you feel that it is harsh and it is wrong but you accept it I think that it is actually the honourable thing to turn around and say: 'Well look, that's your finding, I really don't agree with it but I'm accepting your ruling'."

Mr Paisley called the failure of the recall petition "a miracle" as he thought achieving the number of signatures required to force a by-election was "relatively easy."

He added: "I was certainly prepared for an election, I had arranged my advertising campaign, I had arranged my slogan, I had prepared my election literature.

"I also had other material in place. My wife was cracking up, I had two massive 'A board' vans acquired for the campaign and parked in my driveway. The fact of the matter is that 90.6% of the people, for their own reasons, decided not to sign the petition. It was a positive resolution."

Asked if his father's name could carry him through another election, he said that he "can't win on any of that".

And he said that his reputation would be "damaged amongst the haters who will always hate".

"Am I delighted with the outcome of it? No," he continued. "I just wish that the Commissioner had been more sympathetic to the mitigation that I would put forward. She wasn't, I have to take that on the chin."

He said he knew he had to be "ultra careful" going forward and that public service was "not about self-glorification".

"You have to move away from things which are evil but also which appear and could be interpreted as wrong and I think that there are things there which can be clearly interpreted as ways which were not right for me and I should have been more careful and I think I have tried to consider that and recognise that's really the space that I should occupy," he said.

Mr Paisley was quizzed on an email exchange in which he asked a Sri Lankan official about the "quantity and quality of specifications of oil requirements" for a potential oil purchase and said he could "certainly make this happen very quickly".

He added that he had an upcoming meeting in Africa in which he could "progress this immediately".

Mr Paisley wrote: "Let me know your requirements, as you know this is the most lucrative project you could be involved in and government to government will attract the most discount."

Yesterday Mr Paisley said he had "a number of contacts in that line of business" and would have made the offer "to anyone if they came to me seeking help".

He adde: "I said: 'There's two contacts, that was to your benefit, it's a lucrative project for you, I can put you in touch with those people.'"

Mr Paisley said that his contacts in Oman were in the national petroleum company, and those in Nigeria were in "a similar petroleum industry".

He stated that the issue had arisen in a discussion over dinner, and he had offered to check his contacts. "I came back to them by email and said: 'There's people I do know, I can put you in touch with them,'" he added.

"'Give me the details of it, I will pass it onto the right people'. That's exactly what I offered to do, and the offer was there. Did they take it up? No, they didn't, but the offer was there."

Mr Paisley said that, when questioned by the Commissioner for Standards as to why he had made the offer, he had replied that he "was being helpful".

"I was making available to them my contacts, simple as that," he said yesterday.

Mr Paisley said he didn't think he was "overstating" his influence but was "giving them access to my contacts".

"One individual who I knew in particular in one of the petroleum companies I had got to know reasonably well and I was happy to pass that on," he explained.

He added: "I'm not a broker.

"That is not what a broker would do anyway, a broker deals with costs."

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