Ian Paisley: Second council accused over dinner
Ian Paisley said a complaint had been made by “political rivals”
A second council has been accused of using ratepayers money to sponsor a table at an MP’s constituency dinner.
Causeway Coast and Glens Council paid £1,500 for the table at last September’s event hosted by the DUP’s Ian Paisley.
It was previously revealed Mid and East Antrim Borough Council had sponsored another table for the same sum.
That is now is being treated as a “donation” to the North Antrim MP by the Electoral Commission.
Causeway Coast and Glens council said the payment was within its guidelines.
Investigation into Paisley event money
Audit Office examining DUP event money
Councils are not considered “permissible donors” and money from such bodies must be returned.
In a letter to Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council said the money was paid directly to the Tullyglass Hotel which hosted the dinner.
But Mr Dickson said the payment raises serious questions.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
The Alliance MLA said he was also concerned about how the decision to sponsor a table was taken.
“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, ” he said.
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 council’s procurement policy and specifically the delegated responsibility to officers”.
It added “you will therefore not find a specific council minute which relates to this matter”.
In a further statement, it said the keynote speaker at the event was MP Michael Gove and that subjects discussed included Brexit, passenger air tariffs and their impact upon tourism and business travel and the effect of public sector cuts upon rural services.
“Council agreed to attend the event and invite guests who would benefit from both the subject matter and the potential networking opportunities,” it said.
“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.”
The Northern Ireland Auditor’s office has confirmed it looked into the payment as part of a wider audit of Causeway Coast and Glens Council and will be making recommendations in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission has said it is aware of the payment made by the council, but can’t comment any further as its investigation is ongoing.
In a statement, Mr Paisley said he was “content to wait for the outcome of the commission’s inquiry” which he added “commenced after political rivals made a complaint”.
He said his “annual community and business engagement dinner in Ballymena was very successful and enjoyed by all who attended”.
With many thanks to: BBCNI for the original story
“The question crying out to be answered, arising from the revelation that a second council paid £1500 for a table at a DUP associated dinner, is where did the profits from this dinner go, profits to which ratepayers contributed by paying £3000 to the hotel for the cost of the event.
“Patently, the £1500 contributed by each council, for a table of 10 in each case, exceeded the actual cost of the 10 dinners provided in each case. So, who benefitted from the surplus of public money that went towards paying the total hotel bill? Did it mean the DUP/Ian Paisley had a resulting smaller balance bill? If so, then, the DUP/Ian Paisley were beneficiaries of the council contributions.
“It is time the DUP/Ian Paisley published an audit showing the actual cost of the event and what the effect of the £3000 payments from councils had on the final bill that the party had to pay.
“Coming on the back of the Sri Lankan scandal and the ongoing RHI fiasco, this escapade of ratepayers money going towards a party event adds to the disrepute into which some have brought politics.”
With many thanks to the: Traditional Unionist Voice, tub.org.uk and statement from Jim Allister