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DUP MP Paisley should have declared Maldives trip, says ex-public standards watchdog

Ian Paisley is facing calls from other politicians to resign over new allegations
Ian Paisley is facing calls from other politicians to resign over new allegations
Sir Alistair Graham
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

Former public standards watchdog Sir Alistair Graham has joined a number of politicians in calling for a Parliamentary Commissioner to investigate Ian Paisley over a five-night family holiday at a luxury Maldives resort months after advocating on behalf of the country's government.

The trip took place in October and November 2016, and was not declared on Parliament's Register of Members' Interests.

In February 2016 the North Antrim DUP MP visited the Maldives with two other MPs from an all-party parliamentary group.

Despite the Maldives Government being criticised for human rights abuses at the time, Mr Paisley appeared to advocate on behalf of the regime, arguing against economic sanctions.

He and the other MPs also visited the prison where opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed had been held, and described the conditions as quite luxurious.

BBC NI's Spotlight programme said its evidence suggests that full board and transfers for the family visit by Mr Paisley, his wife and two sons eight months later were provided complimentarily at the request of the Maldivian Government.

It also claimed they were facilitated by resort owner Hussain Hilmy - a former minister in the Maldives Government who has held a number of other important public posts.

Mr Paisley claimed he paid for part of that holiday and the rest was paid for by a friend, whose identity he did not disclose.

He said the friend was unconnected with his work and had received no benefit as a result of his work.

Spotlight's allegations came just weeks after Mr Paisley returned to the House of Commons following a 30-day suspension for failing to declare two 2013 family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan Government.

Sir Alistair, a former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said that in his view, Mr Paisley ought to have disclosed the Maldives family trip in the Register of Members' Interests.

"He should have declared it," he said.

"I think he should refer himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

"Even if it wasn't paid for by the government, he should have declared that trip."

Sir Alistair said the identity of the mystery friend who paid for part of the Paisley holiday needs to be established in order "to judge whether his conduct has met the standards we expect of an MP".

Sir Alistair added: "I think he's got himself into serious trouble by all accounts, unless he can demonstrate in an open and transparent way there was no money coming from the Maldives Government."

TUV leader Jim Allister also called on Mr Paisley to refer himself to Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone, and said the DUP had questions to answer after readmitting Mr Paisley to the party following a temporary suspension linked to his Sri Lanka trips.

"I think what he needs to do immediately is to self-refer," he said.

"I intend to write to the commissioner to ask her to launch an investigation.

"There are big questions for his party. It's inconceivable that before he was readmitted to the party they wouldn't have asked him if there are any other lavish holidays they should know about.

"It's embarrassing all round for the DUP."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called for Mr Paisley to fall on his sword.

He said he had written to ask the Commissioner for Standards to investigate.

"It really is time for Ian Paisley to resign," he said.

"If he doesn't, then the onus is on Arlene Foster to remove him from the DUP."

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill said Mr Paisley should have been long gone by now.

"It's the latest in a long line of scandals associated with the DUP and Ian Paisley in particular," she said.

"I think Ian Paisley should have resigned many months ago.

"I think where he finds himself again today at the centre of another scandal is not anything befitting of someone who holds public office."

Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan said the Maldives allegations raised "serious questions" and that he had also written to ask the commissioner to investigate.

UUP leader Robin Swann said there was "an onus on Mr Paisley to cut the bluster and offer openness and transparency to the people of North Antrim".

"The allegations raised by Spotlight are extremely serious and deserve a credible response from Ian Paisley and the DUP," he said.

"The DUP also need to be open about when they learned of these allegations and what they know.

"The Commissioner for Standards must launch an investigation urgently."

In a statement to Spotlight, Mr Paisley said the Government of the Maldives "did not organise or pay for my family vacation in 2016".

He added: "I'm satisfied the vacation did not have to be recorded on the register."

Last night the BBC reported that Mr Paisley had contacted the office of the Parliamentary Standards Commission to discuss questions raised over the Maldives trip.

The DUP said: "The party officers will want to consider these very serious matters being mindful of the high standards we require of elected representatives."

Earlier, the Commissioner for Standards said that, due to a decision taken by the House of Commons in July, they couldn't confirm or deny whether she had began an inquiry into the conduct of a named MP.

The embassy of the Maldives failed to provide a response for publication.

How the North Antrim MP has never been been a stranger to controversy

The Maldives holiday allegations are far from the first controversy to have hit Ian Paisley Jnr in recent years.

In 2008 he resigned as a Stormont junior minister following criticism of his links to property developer Seymour Sweeney and allegations he had lobbied on his behalf.

In 2012-2013 he emerged as the MP with the highest expenses.

In July, the House of Commons voted to exclude the North Antrim DUP MP for 30 sitting days - the joint-longest period for any member in almost 70 years.

It came after the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found that he had breached rules by not declaring two luxury foreign holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government, which he had also lobbied for. He was also temporarily suspended from the DUP pending further investigation into his conduct.

The breach of rules led to the UK's first recall petition - which could have cost Mr Paisley his seat.

To force a by-election, it needed 10% of his constituents to sign. But the required number of signatures on the petition was 7,543 - falling short by just over 400.

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