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General Election 2019

Arlene Foster 'slipped up' in commenting on parliamentary probe, says Ian Paisley

DUP MP Ian Paisley has said he believes party leader Arlene Foster "slipped up" in stating a parliamentary investigation was being carried out into claims made about his family holiday in the Maldives.

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The newly returned representative for North Antrim made the comment to his local newspaper The Ballymena Guardian.

Arlene Foster told the BBC's The View programme during the election campaign the Parliamentary Commission for Standards was investigating claims arising from a BBC Spotlight programme. It said Mr Paisley should have declared his trip to the Indian Ocean island nation claiming it was paid for by the Maldivian Government.

Mr Paisley 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 by a friend.

"I don't know what Arlene was talking about," Mr Paisley told the Ballymena Guardian.

"When parliament is dissolved any investigations into an MP halt.

"If there are investigations, MPs are not allowed to comment.

"So frankly I don't know what Arlene was thinking when she said what she said, as the commissioner would not even confirm or deny to her if there was or is an investigation.

"I think she slipped up."

The powers of the Parliamentary Commission for Standards cease once an election is called and throughout the election period. However once parliament resumes, investigations that were not concluded before the break can be resumed.

In July 2018 MPs changed the rules voting in favour of giving anonymity to those MPs facing investigation, citing "consistency and fairness" to those who may later be found to have committed no wrongdoing.

A spokeswoman for the commissioner told the Belfast Telegraph the rules prevented any comment on investigations.

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 MP 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 its Government in 2013.

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

Mr Paisley reacted angrily when asked about Mrs Foster's claims of another investigation after his re-election was confirmed last Friday.

He was approached by the BBC and asked if he was pleased that scandals about overseas trips had not hit his re-election bid.

"To have almost 50% of the constituency support you after the abuse and the allegations that have been made against me, the campaign very ably won after £400,000 spent by the BBC going back and forth around the world trying to unseat me," he said.

"I am very pleased that it didn't work."

When asked about the discrepancy between his account and his party leader's, Mr Paisley said: "Your legal department - and don’t play the silly boy with me - you know the situation, your legal department has been involved in it, the BBC has been involved in it.

“If the BBC has anything to say about me, send it to parliament and say it. Don’t try and twist and get me to say it for you.”

The BBC has refused to comment on Mr Paisley's claims.

The DUP has been approached for comment.

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