Sinn Fein suddenly declares 20 overseas trips after watchdog probes MPs’ visits to Venezuela
Elisha McCallion, New York, May 2018
Sinn Fein registered 20 foreign trips after a Westminster watchdog began investigating visits to Venezuela by two of its MPs.
Some of the trips dated back to 2016, and included destinations such as China, Colombia and the United States.
All were registered on or after May 9 this year - in some cases more than three years after they took place. The details emerge in the latest Register of Members' Financial Interests published by Parliament.
Earlier this year Sinn Fein was criticised after it emerged that trips to Venezuela by Chris Hazzard and Mickey Brady, in 2018 and 2017 respectively, had not been registered. The MPs acted as international observers in elections which were marred by claims of vote-rigging.
Although their journeys were paid for at least in part with Venezuelan money, they were not logged with Westminster.
It led to DUP MP Gregory Campbell calling on the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to investigate. Since then, a total of 20 trips by current Sinn Fein MPs have been registered. They include:
- A visit to New York and New Bedford, Massachusetts, by Mr Brady, the Newry and Armagh MP. The visit, between March 10 and 18, 2016, was registered on May 9 this year.
- A visit by Paul Maskey, the West Belfast MP, to Washington and New York from May 31 to June 4, 2016, also registered on May 9.
- The visit to Venezuela, also by Mr Brady, between July 27 and 31, 2017, also registered on May 9.
- A visit to New York by Elisha McCallion, the Foyle MP, between May 7 and 10, 2018, also registered on May 9.
- A visit to Philadelphia by Orfhlaith Begley, the West Tyrone MP, between October 24 and 27, 2018, also registered on May 9.
In total, 17 trips were registered on May 9, and three more on May 22.
Mr Campbell, who is MP for East Londonderry, questioned why Sinn Fein had suddenly registered so many past trips.
He said: "Following the revelations that Mickey Brady and Chris Hazzard had failed to declare their role as observers at the (Venezuelan) elections, I lodged a complaint with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
"The Commissioner responded by confirming that an investigation was under way.
"In light of that investigation it seems that in May, several months after the Commissioner confirmed her investigation, Sinn Fein MPs registered 21 separate trips on the Register of Interests at Westminster, stretching as far back as March 2016, when beforehand there had been very few registrations."
Mr Brady visited Venezuela for a congressional election in July 2017 and Mr Hazzard was there for a presidential election in May 2018. In both elections, there were allegations of vote-rigging.
The MPs travelled as members of delegations of international observers. The cost of their travel was met by CNE, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council, and they did not receive remuneration. It later emerged the trips were not registered with the House of Commons.
Sinn Fein had been heavily critical of DUP MP Ian Paisley's failure to register holidays to Sri Lanka, then lobbying on behalf of its regime.
Mr Campbell raised the Venezuela issue in the House of Commons in February.
At the time Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill told the media "there's no story here" and the Venezuela trip had been "absolutely declared".
A spokesperson for Sinn Fein commented: "Sinn Fein MPs often undertake international visits to promote the Irish peace process and to share the Irish experiences of conflict resolution and peace building.
"This is an important area of political work which, we hope, assists others in finding a negotiated avenue out of conflict.
"These visits are routinely publicised and never involve personal gain or advantage."
The spokesperson added: "We recently consulted with the Westminster Registrar and are happy to register all international travel."
A spokesperson for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards said they do not comment on register entries by individual MPs.