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Second Northern Ireland council took table at Ian Paisley business dinner

By Mark Edwards

A second Northern Ireland council used ratepayers' money to sponsor a table at a dinner hosted by MP Ian Paisley, it has been revealed.

The BBC reports Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council paid £1,500 for the table at the event hosted by the North Antrim MP in September 2017.

The council said its attendance at what was billed as a "business engagement dinner" would be beneficial for its guests and for the networking opportunities.

A decision by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to also sponsor a table for £1,500 at the same event is being investigated by the Electoral Commission.

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council said the sponsoring of the table was within its guidelines.

In a letter to Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council said the £1,500 was paid directly to Tullyglass Hotel, which hosted the event.

Mr Dickson told the BBC: "This is public money and we are now talking about two councils spending over £3,000 of ratepayers' money for something that was billed - and is all over the local newspapers - as a DUP fundraising event.

"A dinner which was held in Ballymena by Ian Paisley MP and indeed was bragged about as a fundraising event by some of his councillors."

He added: "This wasn't a decision by local councillors, this appears to have been taken entirely by council officers on the basis of a letter they received from an organisation which according to Mid and East Antrim, doesn't even exist."

In the letter, seen by the BBC, the council said the spend level for attendance at the dinner did not require councillors' agreement in accordance with its procurement policy.

In a further statement to the BBC, the council said: "Council agreed to attend the event and invite guests who would benefit from both the subject matter and the potential networking opportunities.

"Those guests included representatives of our hospitality, food distribution and production, agriculture and leisure industries with an emphasis on the rural aspects of the borough."

In a statement Mr Paisley - who is currently suspended from the DUP over his Commons suspension - said he was "content to wait for the outcome of the commission's inquiry" which he said "commenced after political rivals made a complaint".

He added his "annual community and business engagement dinner in Ballymena was very successful and enjoyed by all who attended."

The Northern Ireland Auditor's office confirmed to the BBC it looked into the payment as part of a wider audit of the council and will make recommendations in the coming weeks.

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