Sinn Fein MPs did not register trip at Venezuelan government expense

Riot police clash with opposition demonstrators during a protest against the government of President Maduro January 23, 2019
Riot police clash with opposition demonstrators during a protest against the government of President Maduro January 23, 2019

Trips to Venezuela by two Sinn Fein MPs were never registered with Parliament, the News Letter has discovered.

The DUP has said the republican party should now “consider the position” of Mickey Brady and Chris Hazzard given the past strong stance it has taken on the issue of “integrity”, which has seen it launch attacks on Ian Paisley over not registering his own overseas trips.

Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady

Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady

The news comes after the News Letter revealed earlier in the week that Sinn Fein was refusing to provide details of a trip taken to Caracas last month by its general secretary Dawn Doyle and IRA explosives convict-turned-MLA Conor Murphy.

They were attending the inauguration of president Nicolas Maduro Moros, after he was elected to power a second time following a vote which was widely condemned as unfair.

Asked about the cost of travel and accommodation for Mr Murphy and Ms Doyle’s January trip and who paid for it all, Sinn Fein provided only a short and vague response: “Conor Murphy and Dawn Doyle were there as guests of the Venezuelan government.”

Mickey Brady and Chris Hazzard made their trips to Venezuela as “international observers” for two different elections.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro

Mr Brady, MP for Newry and Armagh, was there for a constituent assembly election in late July 2017.

Mr Hazzard, MP for South Down, was there for a presidential one in May 2018 (in which Mr Maduro was re-elected).

After days of prompting about the cost of these trips over the past week, who paid for them and why they were not registered with Parliament, Sinn Fein eventually told the News Letter: “Sinn Fein MPs Chris Hazzard and Mickey Brady travelled to Venezuela as members of delegations of international observers including journalists, diplomats, trade unionists, US politicians, academics and economists.

“The cost of the travel was met by CNE [the Venezuelan National Electoral Council]. The Sinn Féin MPs did not receive any renumeration (sic) for their participation.”

Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard

Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard

Sinn Fein has defended Mr Maduro’s legitimacy. He has faced accusations from governments, the EU, and human rights pressure groups over alleged unfairness in his election, torture and killings by his security forces, and economic mismanagement.

The party had heavily criticised North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley over his failure to register holidays to Sri Lanka with the House of Commons, then lobbying on behalf of the regime there (which is facing scrutiny for its actions in the country’s bloody civil war).

It has also gone on to attack him over another holiday of his to the Islamist-run resort hub of The Maldives.

Mr Paisley said he partially paid for the Maldives trip, and that it was also part-funded by a mystery person whom he declined to identify; he was adamant that the trip did not have to be registered with Parliament.

Days after the News Letter began asking about Sinn Fein politicians’ own trips to Venezuela, the party issued a renewed statement about Mr Paisley’s Maldives break, saying: “The public is entitled to know who paid for this holiday and why Ian Paisley had not registered the trip with the authorities at Westminster.”

It is not clear if Sinn Fein believes that, for some reason, the 2017 and 2018 Venezuela trips do not have to be registered with Parliament; it refused to directly address the question of why the trips had not been registered.

In fact, Mickey Brady has registered nothing for the entirety of his Parliamentary term so far, while Chris Hazzard has declared only a sum of cash he received from the Assembly as an MLA.

Sinn Fein are not exempt from the registration rules, despite being abstentionist.

Parliament’s rules state: “Members must register... any visits to destinations outside the UK where the cost is over £300 if that cost is not wholly borne by the Member or by UK public funds.”

This would include the value of flights, accommodation, how long they were there and who paid.

However, there exceptions; such as any visits “wholly unconnected with membership of the House or with the Member’s parliamentary or political activities”, or those taken under the auspices of various EU or Commonwealth groups.

Gregory Campbell, DUP MP for East Londonderry, said: “Sinn Fein have repeatedly lectured others on integrity and transparency.

“Yet they failed to register these trips sponsored by foreign regimes. The ‘do as I say, not as I do’ policy continues and the irony is not lost.”

He said the Venezuelan government had “hand-picked” Mickey Brady to help with observing its “sham election”.

Both Mr Brady and Mr Hazzard have defended the electoral processes they saw in Venezuela.

“Sinn Fein representatives have become cheerleaders for a corrupt dictator,” added Mr Campbell.

“They stand alone in supporting him while other presidents and countries, even the Irish Government, have backed the opposition leader.

“Yet more questions for the Sinn Fein leadership to deal with. Their position on ‘integrity’ now means they will want to consider the position of their two MPs.”