Parliament watchdog urged to examine Ian Paisley over trips to Maldives
A parliamentary standards watchdog has been urged to re-investigate Ian Paisley after another series of claims about luxury foreign holidays.
Politicians from both sides of Northern Ireland’s community divide urged the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone to examine the allegations levelled against the North Antrim MP.
His DUP party leader Arlene Foster acknowledged that “serious issues” had been raised in Tuesday’s night’s BBC Spotlight programme about Mr Paisley’s trips to the Maldives.
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.
Mr Paisley was suspended from the House of Commons in 2018 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.
Mrs Foster said the fresh claims would be investigated by party officers.
“As you know Ian was suspended for 57 days last year by the party,” she said.
“He is now back in the party under sanction and those sanctions still exist.
“But we will look at that and deal with those serious issues that have been raised by the Spotlight programme.”
Sinn Fein MLA for North Antrim Philip McGuigan urged Ms Stone to investigate.
“Another tearful ‘mea culpa’ apology from Ian Paisley just isn’t going to be enough,” he said.
“These allegations are gravely serious and they need to be treated as such by the authorities and Ian Paisley’s own party.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who also referred the issue the commissioner, called on Mrs Foster to act.
“Ian Paisley should come forward now and clarify the circumstances of these holidays, who paid for them and on what basis,” he said.
“If he does not, then it is for Arlene Foster to take action and to do so quickly.”
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the programme had raised “serious allegations” which needed answers.
“There`s no point in him hiding away until the heat dies down,” he said.
“The continued foreign escapades of the Member of Parliament for North Antrim do nothing to enhance the reputation of the area.”
Alliance chief whip Kellie Armstrong said: “If this behaviour is true and he is found to be guilty of it, Mr Paisley will have once again let down not only his constituents but also himself.
“If we are to regain the trust of the wider public in politics, there must be full openness and transparency from all.”
TUV leader Jim Allister claimed Mr Paisley was damaging unionism.
“Such self-inflicted injury is not what we need or expect from a Unionist MP,” he said.
Last December, 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 nation 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.
On Tuesday night, a 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.
Mr Paisley did not respond to BBC Spotlight over these questions, and did not respond when approached by Press Association.
Spotlight also approached the DUP over whether an announced investigation into Mr Paisley’s visit to the Coco Bodu Hithi resort had reached a conclusion.
A DUP spokesman said: “Discipline is an internal party matter. We do not give a running commentary. All members are treated fairly and have a right to due process.”
In relation to the Sri Lanka holidays, Mr Paisley had referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
Ms 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 since 1970.