Ian Paisley first met holiday donor at Methodist Central Hall
Ian Paisley’s holiday celebrating a milestone birthday was partly-funded by a friend he first met at a cafeteria in London’s Methodist Central Hall.
The Maldives resort owner was attending a tourism expo and Mr Paisley was at an event in the hall.
The North Antrim MP enjoyed a “classic family holiday” after he was gifted two rooms at the Indian Ocean sun spot, evidence published by the parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone said.
Mr Paisley said: “We first met in London at the Central Methodist Hall more than 10 years ago.
“We struck up a friendship with each other and dined together.
“Our interests were not in politics but other matters, including beliefs, family and travel.”
Mr Paisley said the individual, known as director A, was not a politician.
The commissioner’s report said: “They hadn’t visited each other’s homes.
“They weren’t ‘boozing buddies’; they didn’t see each other every week.”
The senior Democratic Unionist said he was invited to visit the director’s holiday resort and be his guest.
The island’s promotion brands itself a “spiritual home” with pristine palm-fringed beaches and reefs.
Mr Paisley said: “I have received no other benefits or benefits in kind from (director A) since we met and since I was in Coco.
“In fact, I haven’t seen him since then, but that was not deliberate just as extremely busy people and I believe our paths would naturally
cross again at some point.
“Given that I only heard about the resort through him and that he had asked me to visit at some point, I made a fair and reasonable view that the kindness of the resort to me at the end of my visit was because I was known by the owner.”
When Mr Paisley had been making his arrangements to go to the tropical Coco Bodu Hithi retreat, in October 2016, he had contacted director A.
The report said: “Ian Paisley said it was only when he went to settle his bill, credit card in hand, that he was told that the rooms had been complimented and there was no balance to pay.
“He had paid for incidentals as and when they’d arisen.”
Mr Paisley said he paid £1,720 for Qatar Airlines flights.
The total cost to the MP of the holiday, including “extras”, came to £2,767, representing 40% of the total spent.
Mr Paisley said he had no contact during the visit with the Maldives Government.
The February before the trip he went to the country on an official visit and meetings were held with government and opposition parties and officials and justices.
Mr Paisley said: “I made private arrangements to travel in early October 2016.
“I had no long term plan to do this but decided it would coincide with my milestone birthday and it would be a welcome surprise during my children’s school break.
“As a result of the generosity of my friend I was able to do this.
“The holiday had not been months in the planning.
“For absolute clarity, I made no speeches, asked no questions, wrote no letters, refrained from any business in the House, made no approaches to ministers or officials between February 2016 right up until my October departure.”
A message from the chief operating officer of Coco Collection Hotels to the MP also formed part of the evidence considered by the commissioner.
It said: “As far as we could tell it was a classic family holiday, and you were like many of our guests who come here from the UK.”