Ian Paisley: Let watchdog rule on any holiday wrongdoing evidence

Ian Paisley has challenged the BBC to present any evidence of alleged wrongdoing to a parliamentary watchdog following the latest claims about taking luxury foreign holidays.

Commenting for the first time on fresh allegations levelled against him about undeclared overseas trips, Mr Paisley said Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone could examine the issues raised.

The DUP North Antrim MP declined to be drawn on the specifics of Tuesday’s night’s BBC Spotlight programme, which included a claim that an undeclared family holiday to the Maldives was partly paid for by a former government minister in the Indian Ocean country.

Insisting he could not give a “running commentary” on the claims, Mr Paisley told the BBC: “If the BBC think I have done anything wrong, all the BBC has to do is to submit evidence to the Parliamentary Commissioner.

“The independent authority can examine on all of those matters and make their own ruling. That’s the only comment I can make.”

Asked if his constituents deserved a fuller explanation, Mr Paisley added: “Don’t worry about my constituents; my constituents and me have a very good and sound relationship.”

Politicians from both sides of Northern Ireland’s community divide have urged Mrs Stone to launch another investigation into Mr Paisley. Parliamentary rules prevent Mrs Stone from either confirming or denying whether she has launched such a probe.

Following a separate inquiry by Mrs Stone last year, Mr Paisley was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days for “serious misconduct” for failing to declare two family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013.

He survived Parliament’s first ever recall petition.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has acknowledged that “serious issues” had been raised in the latest Spotlight programme and said party officers would conduct their own inquiries.

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The programme claimed one of a number of undeclared luxury family holidays Mr Paisley reportedly took was paid for by a former minister in the Maldives government, while another trip had also been complimentary.

Last December, in the wake of the Sri Lankan revelations, BBC Spotlight raised queries over who paid for a luxury holiday the DUP MP and his family took to the Coco Bodu Hithi resort in the Maldives in 2016.

Mr Paisley said then that he paid for part of the holiday and the rest was paid for by a friend.

He did not reveal the identity of this friend, but added that the friend was unconnected with his work and has received no benefit as a result of his work.

Tuesday’s follow-up BBC Spotlight programme, Paisley In Paradise Revisited, reported that the friend was Dr Mohamed Shainee, who at the time of Mr Paisley’s trip to Coco Bodu Hithi was the Maldives fisheries and agriculture minister.

Dr Shainee told the programme he did not pay for the trip.

However, the programme reported that in a statement, Sunland Hotels which owns the resort, told them: “In 2016, Mohamed Shainee requested Sunland Hotels co-owner Hussain Hilmy for a rate at one of the company’s resorts… Shainee settled the payment for Ian Paisley’s stay at the head office.”

BBC Spotlight also raised questions about other visits it reported that Mr Paisley made to the Maldives.

One of these trips, in February 2016 with the all-party British-Maldives parliamentary group, was registered with the House of Commons Register of Interests.

But the other two trips – one to Kandolhu resort with his family in April 2014 and a two-night stay in January 2016 at Paradise Island resort – were not declared.

The trips would only require to be declared if they were gifted to the MP.

Spotlight reported that a source told them the trip to Kandolhu was complimentary.

In relation to the Sri Lanka holidays, Mr Paisley had referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards when the claims were printed by the Daily Telegraph.

Mrs Stone found that Mr Paisley had failed to properly declare two holidays and engaged in paid advocacy for the Sri Lankan government.

Parliament suspended Mr Paisley from the House of Commons for 30 days over the matter.

However, a petition to trigger a by-election in his North Antrim constituency fell short by 444 votes.

On his return to the House of Commons following his suspension, he said: “A smaller man than me would have crumbled.”

Mr Paisley is the son of veteran politician Ian Paisley, who was one of the founders of the DUP, and held the North Antrim Westminster seat, now represented by his son, since 1970.