History repeating as the Union itself stands at the ‘crossroads’

Fifty years ago saw the end of unionist-only government; now, there’s a lot more at stake

The North of Ireland’s prime minister Terence O’Neill and independent unionist candidate Maj RL Hall-Thompson during the 1969 election. Photograph: Tommy Collins/The Irish Times

Fifty years ago, on February 24th, 1969, was Northern Ireland’s “crossroads” election. Northern Ireland prime minister Terence O’Neill hadn’t wanted one, fearing, as he put it, “that those who would sow the wind by having a bitter election now would surely reap the whirlwind”. O’N eill was also the first senior unionist to realise that repeating the “we are the majority”’ mantra was not going to be enough anymore. But his hand was forced by increasing pressure from his own Stormont backbenchers about what they described as his continuing weakness in the face of civil rights demonstrations across Northern Ireland and reformist pressure from Harold Wilson’s Labour government in London.

Between December 9th, 1968 (when he made his “Ulster at the crossroads” speech) and early February, he was forced to sack a cabinet minister; another one – along with two junior ministers – resigned. A third of his parliamentary party called for his resignation. An election seemed his only option; so, buoyed up by the 150,000 letters of support which had followed his “crossroads” speech, he chose to ignore his personal “reap the whirlwind” opinion and appeal to a supposed “groundswell” of moderate support for his policies.

The Unionist Party endorsed and fielded official candidates who were both pro- and anti-O’Neill
It was to be a fatal miscalculation, yet fairly typical of an otherwise decent, thoughtful, reform-minded man who never really had his finger on the pulse of traditional grassroots unionism. As Brian Faulkner noted: “I do not think he ever felt really at home in Ulster politics. His personal remoteness made it difficult for him to lead his party along new and difficult paths at a very crucial period in the province’s history.”

Internal critics
And it was that remoteness, along with a reluctance to listen to well-disposed internal critics, which led to his comprehensive inability to appreciate the sheer scale of the opposition to him. My father, who knew him reasonably well, told me: “Just because Terence was looking at you and nodding politely didn’t mean he was seeing or listening to you.”

What followed was farce on an epic scale. The Unionist Party endorsed and fielded official candidates who were both pro- and anti-O’Neill. A group of pro-O’Neill supporters formed the New Ulster Movement three weeks before the election, backing pro-O’Neill candidates within the Unionist Party, as well as 17 “unofficial” Unionist candidates who were opposing the anti-O’Neill candidates from the Unionist Party. O’Neill, as tin-eared as ever, didn’t seem to have a problem canvassing for “unofficial” candidates who were running against candidates selected by his own party.

The result was a disaster for him. Of the 39 unionists who won, 27 were supporters (although some much more so than others). The comfortable majority he had banked on winning from the “groundswell” of moderate opinion didn’t materialise, leaving him with a paper-thin 27-25 overall majority in Parliament. Just one defector would cripple him. He was hobbled; deprived of the authority he needed to negotiate with Westminster and permanently at the mercy of his internal opponents. Ironically, both Brian Faulkner (in January-May 1974, after he had signed the Sunningdale Agreement) and David Trimble (after the 1998 Assembly election) found themselves in a similar position: lacking authority and flexibility because they didn’t have a solid unionist majority behind them, even though that same groundswell of moderate opinion was supposedly supporting them.

Eased out
Within two months O’Neill had been eased out of the leadership. But by that stage it was too late to avoid the impending implosion. Under his successors (James Chichester-Clark, who defeated Brian Faulkner by just 17-16, and then Faulkner, who replaced him in March 1971), the unionist government found itself forced into one concession after another. And with each new concession came another division. Between 1970 and early 1972 a number of new political/electoral vehicles emerged to eat into the Unionist Party vote: Vanguard, formed by Bill Craig, who addressed huge rallies and once spoke of the need to “liquidate” the enemy ; the DUP; and even Alliance, which started life as a home for moderate unionists uncomfortable with the direction of the Unionist Party. Along with that there were a number of new offshoots and independent mavericks operating on the fringes. It was the beginning of the end of the Ulster Unionist monolith.

O’Neill was undone by events beyond his control and the control of the Unionist Party
The biggest change over the past 50 years has been in the election figures. On February 24th, 1969, unionist parties and independent candidates accounted for 67 per cent of the votes cast; while the Northern Ireland Labour Party, which was pro-Union, won 8 per cent; meaning that almost three-quarters of the vote was unionist of one kind or another. On March 2nd, 2017, at the last Assembly election, the combined unionist vote was 45 per cent.

Unionist majority
It was 1969 that marked the end of unionist-only government. 2017 marked the end of an overall unionist majority in a local parliament or assembly. The unionist and pro-union vote is not always the same thing, of course, because there are people who do not vote for unionist parties but who might, nevertheless and for all sorts of reasons, choose to support the Union in a border poll. But the shift in electoral figures since the 1969 “crossroads” election suggests that unionists need to face the fact that it is maybe the Union itself that now stands at the crossroads. This time, though, it is the leader of the DUP monolith who will have to make the crucial decisions on behalf of unionist interests.

Irrespective of the fact that the DUP recorded its largest-ever vote in the 2017 general election, that it is presently a key player at a crucial moment in Westminster, and that Arlene Foster has no rival hovering in the wings with a dagger, her position is not much more comfortable than was O’Neill’s 50 years ago. She is not the mistress of her fate. O’Neill was undone by events beyond his control and the control of the Unionist Party. She, too, is at the mercy of events beyond her personal control or the control of her party.

Alex Kane is a commentator based in Belfast. He was formerly director of communications for the Ulster Unionist Party

With many thanks to: The Irish Times and Alex Kane for the original story

‘The Orange State is gone and it’s not coming back’ say’s McDonald on 100th anniversary of First Dail

Sinn Féin President (right) Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald has proclaimed that “the orange state is gone and it’s not coming back” at an event to mark the anniversary of the First Dail in Dublin.

Mrs McDonald and party representatives met in Mansion House to celebrate 100 years since the meeting of the First Dail at the venue on January 21 1919.

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The Sinn Fein leader also said that Brexit and world politics were driving events “towards the logic of Irish unity”.

She used the 100th anniversary event to reaffirm her party’s commitment to working for a united Ireland and set their sights on government in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Mrs McDonald said the Good Friday Agreement had guaranteed a “a historic opportunity to build a United Ireland by peaceful, democratic means”.

“Let us build a genuine people’s campaign for a United Ireland based on progressive demands for a better and fairer society for all,” she said.

“We have an opportunity during this time of political, constitutional and social transition to fix the broken, two-state system and eradicate the social and economic ills that it has created.

“With the support of the people we have ensured that the Orange State is gone and it’s not coming back.”

The Sinn Fein President said her party would pursue “vigorously the democratic imperative of a United Ireland”.

She told the event that the “final chapter in Irish Unity” was approaching.

“Our focus now is on building Sinn Fein to be the biggest party on this island, acting as the major catalyst for political, economic and social progress and with the ability to lead a radical Republican government,” Mrs McDonald said.

“And let me be very clear here today that the Sinn Fein leadership of 2019 is as determined to achieve the objectives of the First Dáil as those who gathered in this place one hundred years ago.

“We must dare to win, we must plan to win and we must act to win. And let me tell you we will win. We will have a new and united Ireland.

“We will return to this place and we will remember all those who came before and we will celebrate an Irish Republic of equal citizens.”

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph for the original story

Charges withdrawn against man accused of pointing AK47 at Orange march

Image of Christopher Donaldson posing with the AK47 as appeared on Facebook

Charges against a man accused of pointing a gun at an Orange March were withdrawn on Tuesday.

During a mention that lasted seconds at Antrim Magistrates Court, a prosecuting lawyer said the PPS were withdrawing all charges against 34-year-old Christopher Donaldson.

Donaldson, whose address has been made the subject of a reporting restriction, was not at court having been excused but he had faced five charges arising from an incident on July 8 last year.

The 34-year-old was accused of having an imitation AK47 assault rifle with intent to cause fear of violence, doing a provocative act by “chanting sectarian slogans,” improper use of a communication network to send a message which he knew to be false, using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace and possessing a single round of ammunition in suspicious circumstances.

The charges arose after a video emerged of a man appearing to pretend to fire at an Orange parade in Randalstown.

A second video uploaded to the same Facebook page showed a man positioning himself close to those on parade before making offensive remarks and chanting pro-IRA slogans.

Previously the court heard that Donaldson accepted that it was him in the videos and further that he had been subjected to online threats against his safety.

After the court hearing a PPS spokesperson told the News Letter: “The PPS received an investigation file from police relating to this matter on 28 November 2018. Following a careful review it was concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove the criminal intent required to prosecute any potential charge.

“A no prosecution decision was issued on 4 January 2019 and the police charges were withdrawn in court today.”

With many thanks to the: Ballymena & Antrim Times for the original story


66% of the population of the North of Ireland do not support the stance of DUP on Brexit

Business groups to round on DUP

BUSINESS groups and trade organisations will deliver an unparalleled attack on the DUP over its opposition to the EU withdrawal agreement.

They are to meet in Belfast this Monday morning, possibly in the presence of a senior British cabinet figure, to agree a statement in support of the Brexit deal they see as “a pragmatic and workable solution”. It is understood leading union figures will weigh in behind them in an unprecedented move against the DUP – which styles itself as the pro-business party.

In a joint statement on Friday the CBI, FSB, IoD and NI Chamber of Commerce said the draft agreement, ” while no means perfect, is a welcome step forward and provides some much-needed clarity for businesses “. Retail NI, after meetings with NIO and Cabinet Office officials in London, also gave its support to the draft deal. Chief executive Glyn Roberts said it was by ” no means perfect but preferable to the economic disaster of a no-deal”. “Our economy, future prosperity and people’s jobs must be put first before politics,” he said.

The acrimony with the DUP came as the Ulster Farmers’ Union -previous allies and a Leave group – urged the DUP to consider backing the deal. Senior DUP figure Sir Jeffrey Donaldson infuriated the farm group during a TV debate on Thursday when he accused it of misunderstanding the 585-page document. Tory rebels have been urged to back Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal amid mounting expectation that she will face a leadership challenge. Her critics believe they have the numbers to trigger a vote of no confidence within days. Mrs May has also Conservatives in the North of Ireland she is willing to visit the north to pitch her draft agreement, according to former Tory election candidate Roger Lomas.

Our relationship with the DUP is now toxic. We’ve had enough. They’ve burnt bridges with us – Business body chief

That infuriated both the farm group, which represents the interests of 11,500 family farms in the North of Ireland, and business organisations, who have largely welcomed the withdrawal deal. One business body chief told The Irish News: “Our relasonship with the DUP is now toxic. We’ve had enough. They’ve burnt bridges with us.” A spokesman for another organisation said he feared his group “would loose some members if we invited the DUP to our events in this atmosphere”. The DUP has vowed to vote down Theresa May’s deal, claiming the proposals for a border backstop will see the North of Ireland treated differently to the rest of the UK. In response to Sir Jeffery’s comments, UFU chief executive Wesley Aston said: “A  no-deal situation for the North of Ireland agri-food and farming would be absolutely disastrous and we have made that patently clear. “If we do go into a no-deal situation and it does impact prices, access to markets, import levels and standards, then that would have major consequences, reports that have have looked at a no deal situation have said. ” There would be serious concerns for our livestock sectors in particular, because we depend so much on our exports, particularly to the GB mainland market, and what that would mean if we were competing against lower price, lower standard imports.”

Bridges have been burned and they will take a long time to repair

IT’S no coincidence that the DUP has hogged Stormont’s economy portfolio since 2007. After all, it claims to be the party of – and for – business.

UFU Chief Executive Wesley Aston

Notwithstanding the RHI debacle, it has carried out its functions with the general acceptance (if not always aplomb) of ‘Corporate Northern Ireland. But as in marriages, in boardrooms, and often in life, even the very best relationships sour, and those separations can be amicable or caustic. So to say the DUP and the north’s business community are at loggerheads right now is putting it mildly.

Indeed, there exists a vitriol and bile that could manifist itself in the coming days in an agreed statement from business organisations not just distancing themselves from the current DUP thinking, but by putting the boot in. The party of democrats has effectively cut itself adrift from business and civic society.

on Thursday night, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was a guest at a business dinner in Belfast hosted by the North of Ireland’s Drink Association. He listened to its chairman Brian Irwin herald the withdrawal agreement as positive and enabling more substantive talks around the north’s future trading relationship with the EU. Mr Irwin is a breadman and he joked those who would face down the deal should “steady the bap”. He insisted it would be ” disastrous ” for the agri-food sector, which simply couldn’t absorb increased customs, tariffs and regulatory costs on trade between the North of Ireland and the EU. The cost to the sector would, he claimed, be more than £1 billion a year.

He urged politicians in the room to show decisive leadership and work together with the business community to ensure the interests of the economy and society take priority over party politics. Cue ‘hear hears’ and wild applause. At that stage Sir Jeffrey Donaldson had to slip off for a prior appointment in a television studio, where he came face to face with the head of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, an organisation which backed Leave in the referendum. In a bizarre exchange on The View, he proceeded to patronise the UFU by accusing it of not having read nor understood the document. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

Business groups were hinting privitly on Friday that they’ve had their fill of the DUP. The reasonship has gone toxic. Expect invitations for the ‘party of business’ to future breakfasts, launches and dinners to get, ahem, lost in post. The spokesman for one organisation told me they’d probably loose members if they invited the DUP to their events in the circumstances. In effect, they don’t want to be handcuffed to idiots. They’ve tryed talking and they’ve tried reasoning with the DUP. But bridges have been burnt, and they will take a long time to repair. Abba once sang ‘Breaking up is never easy I know, but I have to go’. Business and the DUP? Knowing me, knowing you. It’s the best I can do.

With many thanks to: Gary McDonald and The Irish News for the original story.


DUP using Brexit to kill Good Friday Agreement

LET’S leave aside the intricacies of backstop, and backstop to backstop and have a look at the state of play here.

In the midst of the chaos of the civil war in the Conservative party and the British cabinet two conclusions are clear. First, the role the DUP has played as usual idiots to assist this British government clinging to power – because that’s their sole function – has released dangerous elements in unionism from paying even lip service to the Good Friday Agreement. Secondly, the way that Arlene Foster has zealously carried a sandwich board for Brextremists both in England and here means it’s unlikely she will ever be first minister again.

That’s not only because her language and behaviour have rendered her repellent to nationalists but also because, choosing to side with the dinosaurs in her party, she has boxed herself into a corner where she is unable to deliver any deal with Sinn Féin. As a consequence of all that a return to a Stormont executive is improbable in the foreseeable future.

The other factor preventing a return to a devolved government is that the prime minister’s electoral dependence on the DUP has completely spancelled our clueless proconsul. Since she won’t contemplate an outside arbitrator, that means no other party can take her seriously as a chair because political necessity requires her to be partisan. Besides, look at the calendar. Brexit next March, local government elections in May and then the marching season. In between there’ll probably be an Irish election. Even if talks at Stormont produced a deal there would have to be an election to ratify it. When?

However, there isn’t going to be a deal because the people in ascendant in the DUP, the MPs, don’t want one. They all opposed the Good Friday Agreement and continue to do so, as do many, perhaps the majority, in the DUP. For these people Brexit is an opportunity to

Arlene Foster has left a trail splattered with bile giving no indication that she either wants or needs to reciprocate overtures from Sinn Féin

continue dismantling the GFA. One bonus of the hard border they want is to make redundant the North-South Ministerial Council which the DUP successfully worked hard to ignore and diminish over the past decade and Sinn Féin let them. Next, we hear the refrain from senior right wing Conservatives, including former conspicuous failures as proconsuls here, that the GFA can and should be changed. This theme has been taken up by their sandwich-board woman Foster. Brexit means the GFA has to change we hear. How, is not clear, but the DUP and their Conservative organ grinders are busily creating the climate for removing their undesirable bits, like the absence of a visible border. The DUP has already successfully prevented any meaningful meeting of the British-Irish Inter-governmental Conference, even though devolved government has collapsed.

If there were to be talks about restoring Stormont the starting point would be the deal Arlene Foster was unable to deliver in February. Since then she has hardened her position on the sticking points like the Irish language and equality provisions. If reports of the acrimonious DUP executive meeting last week are anything to go by, one of the main criticisms levelled at Foster was her attendance at the Donegal-Fermanagh match in Clones. That gives you an idea of the chances of making a deal with the DUP.

Instead of trying to move towards conciliating her political opposition in Sinn Féin Foster has scarcely uttered a constructive syllable in the last year. On the contrary, she has left splattered with bile giving no indication that she either wants or needs to reciprocate overtures from Sinn Féin.

As she found last February how, even if she wanted to, will she suddenly reverse direction and close a deal with people she denigrates? How would she convince her own party it’s a good idea, having spent so long dissing the whole project? It’s obvious now there is deep dissatisfaction with Foster in her own party. Its councillors are much exercised by the mess Foster made of RHI and the stench rising from the inquiry which they will have to explain when canvassing next May. Luckily for Foster there’s no heir apparent who wants to take over from her but she has written her own political P45.

With many thanks to: Brian Feeney and The Irish News for the original posting.

With its majority gone, it’s vital unionism understands the new Catholic sense of identity

Brexit and the declining influence of the Church could prove pivotal, says Malachi O’Doherty

Last week I was asked to launch a new collection of academic essays. It was the hardest job I had ever taken on, if the point was to sell copies of the book.

The Contested Identities Of Ulster Catholics (Palgrave, edited by Paul Burgess) costs a penny short of a hundred pounds, so there was no queue at all for it.

Academic publishers are only concerned to sell to libraries, but this book has a relevance that would make it valuable reading for our politicians and commentators.

In my launch speech I said that the biggest change on the political scene in Northern Ireland in my eventful lifetime is that the Union has become dependent on support from the Catholic community.

This has to be understood and engaged with by anyone interested in preserving the Union or dispensing with it.

Some people have not caught onto this yet. Theresa May has.

In a conversation she was reported to have had with Jacob Rees-Mogg last year, she is said to have expressed a fear that the “moderate nationalists” – her phrase – would react to a hard Brexit by opting for a united Ireland.

More recently, Newsnight reported that the Secretary of State – who should perhaps read this book, too, and a few others I could suggest – had decided not to call an election to the Assembly because a nationalist majority would leave her with no argument against a border poll.

On the other hand we have David Trimble and others arguing that the fear of a growing demand for a united Ireland is being whipped up by Sinn Fein and that it has no substance.

Unionism, it strikes me, is being uncommonly blithe about the changing context, having arguably overreacted in the past when it thought that the IRA was a real threat to the integrity of the UK, an estimation of the clout of republicans which was shared only by republicans themselves.

So the people who panicked in the past say there is no need to panic now, though the circumstances are radically different.

But it is good they are not panicking. It’s not so good that they are not noticing the breadth of change.

The first big change is that the unionist majority has gone. The proportionate rise in the Catholic population that was the bogey of much unionism throughout the history of Northern Ireland has arrived.

John Coakley, a contributor to the book, tells us it is expected that the 2021 census will reflect a Catholic majority.

This means that the Protestant Ulster that Ian Paisley senior sought to defend has gone.

The argument that the Union must be preserved to prevent Protestant Ulster being absorbed into its Romish neighbour is obsolete. An ex-argument.

So one of the traditional props of the Union, the call to arms in defence of the faith, is now only of historic interest. There can be no Union now other than one endorsed cross-community.

Yet there is a sectarian assumption at work there too, that identity matters more to Protestants than it does to Catholics.

Indeed, Anthony McIntyre alludes to this as a reality in his chapter where he says that unionists are much more concerned to defend the Union than nationalists are to get rid of it.

The implication is that unionists preserve the Union out of love for it, a passionate sense that their identity relies on it.

Catholics are different – they are more concerned about what side their bread is buttered on. But this diagnosis is tested by Brexit.

We may be discovering, through this experiment, aspects of the character of the northern Catholic community that we hadn’t weighed up before, like a possible preference among many – enough to make a difference – for mending relations in the North over uniting the island into a single jurisdiction. Who of us doesn’t feel more at home in Ballymena than in Ballinasloe?

But that is not the only question.

A conjunction of phenomena has emerged like a startling planetary alignment.

Catholic Ireland is being dissolved. Even if there still was a Protestant majority, and if Paisley was at his thunderous best, he could no longer claim that the Republic is a Catholic state being manipulated by the Papacy.

In fact, the idea is so laughable that some among us may need reminded that this was a powerful conviction in play during the Troubles period.

At the same time as we have a loosening of the grip of the Church over Irish Catholics, appalled by abuse scandals and entering into the general European trend towards secularisation, we have a counter force in the North in the form of the DUP, determined to resist same-sex marriage and abortion law reform.

So, at a time when we might have seen chauvinistic rages settle down, we have a new dividing line.

And this has led to disaffection with devolution in the North among Catholics and nationalists.

We can trace the collapse of Stormont to the RHI scandal and the denial of a standalone Irish Language Act, but if we look to why so many people don’t seem to care if it comes back or not, among Catholics and nationalists, distaste for the DUP and a lack of enthusiasm for restoring to it the power to block social reform is, I think, primary.

I suspect even Sinn Fein has been taken by surprise by this.

So forces are in play that were not in play during the Troubles: the demographic shift, secularisation North and South, and an aversion to the social conservatism of the DUP.

And Brexit.

Which might turn out fine.

Many serious unionists are confident that the Catholic community can be relied on, in sufficient numbers, to endorse the Union – though never calling themselves unionists – so we’ll put Stormont back up and either make a new bigger deal to secure it, or hobble on to the next breakdown.

But crucially, if the Protestant majority was the prop that secured the Union for a century, cross-community support is the only prop that can sustain it further, and that means that the de facto unionists in the Catholic community have to be kept onside.

Recognising that Catholic community support from now on must be a cornerstone of the Union, or there will be no Union, requires an appeal to the northern Catholic sense of identity in a future that may not include a British economy that is stronger than an Irish one.

Who can say our butter won’t be on the other side of the piece in a decade from now anyway?

The Contested Identities Of Ulster Catholics, edited by Paul Burgess, is published by Palgrave, £99.99

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph for the original story.

Time to come clean who profited from Council contributions to the DUP – Paisley dinner ?

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.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said there are serious questions to be answered

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.

Wider audit

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