Ian Paisley has maintained his silence about allegations that he took more luxury trips to the Maldives, even as he faces the possibility of a fresh investigation by Parliament’s standards commissioner.
On Tuesday night BBC Spotlight reported allegations that the DUP MP had on two further occasions travelled to luxurious Indian Ocean resorts, bringing to five the number of Mr Paisley’s luxury foreign breaks in Indian Ocean resorts over a period of about three years.
Spotlight reported a claim by Hussain Hilmy, the owner of one of the Maldivian resorts where the MP and his family stayed, that it had been paid for by the then Maldivian government minister, Mohamed Shainee.
Mr Shainee denied he had any involvement with Mr Paisley’s November 2016 holiday and the MP had previously said that the stay had been paid for by an unidentified friend who was unconnected to his work as an MP.
Spotlight said that two other sources had independently told it that Dr Shainee had paid for Mr Paisley’s holiday.
Last year a detailed investigation by the Commons’ Standards Commissioner, Kathryn Stone, led to MPs voting to hand the North Antrim MP the longest suspension from the Commons in parliamentary history.
They described as “serious misconduct” his advocacy for the Sri Lankan government after it had given him free luxury holidays which he had failed to declare in the Commons’ register of members’ interests.
Yesterday the Alliance Party and Sinn Fein wrote to Ms Stone to ask her to investigate the claims in the latest Spotlight programme.
They had already asked Ms Stone to investigate the first Maldivian holiday which emerged in December.
However, a change to the parliamentary rules made by MPs in the wake of Mr Paisley’s suspension last year means that the commissioner is no longer allowed to clarify whether or not she is investigating an MP about whom there has been a complaint.
In a statement, the DUP did not as a party contest any of what Spotlight had reported. The party said: “We note the serious issues raised in the programme. The party officers will consider these matters within the context of our disciplinary process and any other relevant authority.
“Ian Paisley MP was suspended from the party for 57 days [last year]. He was readmitted to membership, with conditions. Amongst other sanctions, was a ban on holding office in the party for 12 months. That ban is still in place.
“We require high standards from our elected representatives. Discipline is an internal party matter. We do not give a running commentary.”
When asked about the issue in London yesterday, DUP leader Arlene Foster told the BBC that she had not viewed Tuesday’s broadcast. She said that “serious issues have been raised by Spotlight” and the DUP would “have a look at it”.
Mr Paisley was present at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee yesterday where he criticised the Irish government for not speaking to the group attempting to set up alternative post-Brexit arrangements at the Irish border, saying that “this silence from the Irish government” was “very alarming”.
Alliance chief whip Kellie Armstrong said that she had written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to request an investigation into Mr Paisley and asked the commissioner to specifically examine whether Mr Paisley should have declared any of the trips to the Maldives.
She said there was a need for “full openness and transparency from all”.
North Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan said that he had asked Ms Stone to investigate and criticised what he described as “the failure of the DUP leadership” to discipline Mr Paisley.
TUV leader Jim Allister said he was alarmed at the implications for unionism: “My wider concern is the further damage done to Unionism PLC. Such self-inflicted injury is not what we need or expect from a unionist MP.”