DUP MP Ian Paisley asked Causeway Coast and Glens council to attend a dinner event which saw it sponsor a £1,500 table, a special meeting of the council has heard.
The NI Auditor’s office is looking into the payment for a September 2017 event in Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena, as part of a wider audit of the local authority. It will make recommendations later.
Sinn Féin Mayor of the local authority, Brenda Chivers, said she called the special meeting on Monday night because of concerns that the council had purchased “a table to a DUP fundraiser” the BBC reported.
Director of leisure and development, Richard Baker, told councillors that Mr Paisley had phoned the council with an invite to the dinner, which was attended by the Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
In a letter previously 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”.
Council chief executive David Jackson was asked whether officers from the local authority “felt let down by the creative invitation from Mr Paisley?”
Mr Jackson said he did not want to pre-judge an Electoral Commission investigations but was “certainly very embarrassed by the reputational damage that this has done to the council”. However, future attendance at any “subsequent events” are to be cleared by him, he added.
DUP Councillor Sam Cole said he was not at the dinner but understood Mr Paisley was a facilitator for a business community networking event.
“Members here seemed to have reached their own opinion that this was a party fundraiser, a DUP party fundraiser, there is no evidence that has been offered in this chamber,” he said.
But UUP Councillor Norman Hillis said he found it difficult to understand why council officers decided to pay for a table.
“Surely the price of the table should have told the officers involved that this event must be in aid of something?”, he said.
The Electoral Commission has said it is aware of the payment but cannot comment as its investigation is ongoing.