Ian Paisley dinner event: Council made £1,500 without agreement from elected representatives

Ian Paisley, MP for North Antrim
Ian Paisley, MP for North Antrim

A Northern Ireland council spent ratepayer’s money on a table at a DUP MP’s constituency dinner without agreement from elected representatives, it has emerged.

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 this year that Mid and East Antrim council had done likewise at the same cost.

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

Causeway Coast and Glens council said it made the decision to spend ratepayers money on the event without “agreement” from elected representatives.

In a letter to Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, which emerged today and has been seen by the News Letter, the council’s director of leisure and development Richard Baker writes: “The spend level for attendance at the North Antrim Community and Business Dinner did not require councillors’ agreement in accordance with council’s procurement policy and specifically the delegated responsibility to officers.”

Mr Dickson told the News Letter: “We know that Mid and East Antrim money paid this money, rightly or wrongly, in a very open way. Mid and East Antrim council voted to spend the money and go.

“It is strange and interesting that the councillors at the Causeway Coast and Glens were not consulted.”

Mr Dickson added: “That sounds exceedingly strange to me, but they’ve admitted it all in black and white in this letter.”

TUV councillor Boyd Douglas told the News Letter he had learned of the payment only through the media.

“It wasn’t before any council meeting, and it wasn’t discussed at the leisure and development committee,” he said. “It should have been brought before the elected representatives. Questions will need to be asked.”

The UUP grouping on the council has also written to the council chief executive, David Jackson, about the payment.

A party spokesperson said: “We await the answers with interest.”

A spokesperson for the council said the payment was made via bank transfer, and that a “specific council minute which relates to this matter is not required nor exists”.

The Northern Ireland Auditor’s office has also confirmed to the News Letter that it has looked into the payment as part of a wider audit of Causeway Coast and Glens council.

The MP who hosted the event, Ian 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.”

Mr Paisley continued: “Most people will see this as petty political rivalry.”