DUP MP Ian Paisley phoned up a Northern Ireland council to invite them to attend his constituency dinner at a cost to ratepayers of £1,500, it has emerged.
A special sitting of the Causeway Coast and Glens council was held in Coleraine earlier this week, where officers explained how £1,500 was paid to sponsor a table at the event hosted by Mr Paisley.
It is one of two councils to have sponsored a table at the dinner event; 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 that payment as “a donation” to Mr Paisley.
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.
Ulster Unionist councillor Richard Holmes told the News Letter: “The officers did present councillors with the correspondence surrounding the event. In essence, a phone call had been made by Ian Paisley Jr to the director of leisure and development Richard Baker, basically offering an invite to what he (Mr Paisley) communicated to be a business engagement dinner.
“Council took him up on the offer and invited guests along from local business, the local community etc.
“Council went along to the event, but they were not under the impression that it was a fundraiser.
“The Northern Ireland Audit officers put a few shots across the boughs of the council, saying that you were being asked to co-ordinate with the DUP MP’s office. The audit office was basically saying there should have been a few alarm bells ringing.
“The chief executive (David Jackson) did say he was embarrassed at the whole thing.”
Mr Holmes added: “I believe the council officers acted in good faith, but at this stage we do not know if council has inadvertently made a donation to a political party – but of course the Electoral Commission is investigating.”
Sinn Fein councillor Cara McShane, meanwhile, said: “Ratepayers have a right to be angry at this decision and Causeway Coast and Glens Council should immediately take steps to have the money reimbursed back into the public purse.”
Mr Paisley said in a statement: “I am content to await the outcome of the (Electoral) Commission’s inquiry, commenced after political rivals made a complaint.”