Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog probes Paisley's DUP dinner with Gove - council paid £1,500 for table

Details of a Northern Ireland council taking a table at a DUP dinner hosted by Ian Paisley are being examined, it has been reported.

The Electoral Commission told the BBC it was considering the information to determine if a full investigation is required.

A DUP dinner with Cabinet Minister Michael Gove was hosted by the party's North Antrim MP Ian Paisley at Ballymena's Tullyglass House Hotel last September. At the time, the DUP described it as "an annual MP's constituency dinner", and denied it was "a DUP fundraising dinner".

Mid and East Antrim council took a £1,500 table at the dinner, which was attended by chief executive Anne Donaghy, council officers, elected members and agri-food sector representatives.

It was revealed at a council meeting last month that, while guests were asked to make cheques payable to the Tullyglass House Hotel, they were to be posted to Ian Paisley's constituency office.

The council said elected members had "agreed to purchase" a £1,500 table at the 2017 dinner during a full council meeting, and that the local authority had made an electronic payment to the Tullyglass Hotel as requested.

However, it has emerged the Electoral Commission is now examining details of the payment. The BBC reports that under Electoral Commission rules councils are not "permissible donors".

Mid and East Antrim council said it had been contacted by the commission. A spokeswoman said the council received an invitation to a North Antrim Annual Business and Community dinner hosted and facilitated by Mr Paisley, with Mr Gove as special guest.

The Tullyglass Hotel, told the BBC, the event was paid for by the DUP.

The DUP has not commented on the latest development, but has said the dinner was not a party fundraiser.

An Electoral Commission spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph: “We are aware of this matter and are considering it in line with our enforcement policy."

A statement from the Northern Ireland Audit Office said: "We are aware of that particular issue and will specifically review that transaction as part of our audit procedures when we come to review the accounts."

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