Council to scrutinise £1,500 spent at Ian Paisley constituency event

In session: The Causeway Coast and Glens council. INCR26-107S
In session: The Causeway Coast and Glens council. INCR26-107S

The decision by a Northern Ireland council to spend £1,500 of ratepayers’ money on a table at a DUP MP’s constituency dinner is to come under scrutiny at a special council meeting.

The Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council paid £1,500 to sponsor a table at the event hosted by North Antrim MP Ian Paisley at the Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena in September last year.

It is the second council to have sponsored a table at the dinner event, after it was revealed in May that Mid and East Antrim Council had done likewise at the same cost to ratepayers.

The Electoral Commission has confirmed it is investigating and is treating the payment as “a donation” to Mr Paisley.

A special sitting of the Causeway Coast and Glens Council will take place on Monday to discuss the payment.

The dinner event was addressed by Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who has since apologised for his attendance, according to a local Conservative Party councillor.

Causeway Coast and Glens councillor David Harding said the way the event was presented to both his party colleague Mr Gove and officers at the Causeway Coast and Glens Council was “misleading, either intentionally or otherwise”.

Mr Harding said: “I have spoken to council officers and because of communications I have had with Michael Gove, I understand how it was presented. It is certainly not unusual for an MP to host a community or business engagement event, but I am clear in my mind that this was a DUP event. That is not how it was presented but that is how it ended up.”

He said he lodged a complaint with Conservative Party headquarters that has been “dealt with”.

Mr Harding continued: “I met Michael Gove in Belfast and he said that he had believed it was a legitimate business and community engagement event.

“He certainly did not view it as a DUP fundraising event, and he apologised to me and the Conservatives in Northern Ireland for having been there.”

Mr Paisley issued a statement describing the dinner event as “very successful”.

He added: “I am content to await the outcome of the (Electoral) Commission’s inquiry, commenced after political rivals made a complaint about two tables purchased by the local authority for their guests.”