Controversial gala dinner over which North Antrim MP Ian Paisley was fined by Electoral Commission is set to come under spotlight at council meeting

A council meeting is due to be held next week in Ballymena to discuss issues surrounding a dinner event held in the town over which North Antrim MP Ian Paisley was fined by the Electoral Commission.

The fine was a sanction against the DUP man for accepting money from two Northern Ireland councils for attendance at what the Commission ruled was a fundraising dinner.

The dinner event was addressed by the senior Conservative Michael Gove.

Mid and East Antrim and Causeway Coast and Glens councils took tables at the dinner at Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena in September 2017, each paying £1,500.

The councils said the payments had been made to the hotel for attendance at a business related event, the BBC reported in September.

 

 

The agenda for the meeting is on the Council’s website.

 

In mid-September when news of the fine emerged, a DUP spokesperson had said the event was not organised by the party but by Mr Paisley in his capacity as MP for North Antrim and the associated donations were received on that basis.

“Mr Paisley cooperated fully with the investigation and, while acting in good faith, he accepts the outcome of the report,” the spokesperson had added.

The commission decided the dinner was a fundraiser and councils are not regarded as legally “permissible donors” for political parties.

It is understood the North Antrim MP has agreed to return the money to the councils and the £1,300 fine is in addition to that, the BBC reported last month.

The Electoral Commission is the official watchdog, which regulates the funding of political parties in the UK.

It said the fine had been imposed due to Mr Paisley’s “failure to return donations from impermissible donors within 30 days of receiving them”.

A commission statement said the two variable monetary penalties totalling £1,300 have to be paid by 8 October 2020.

 

 

The agenda for the meeting is on the Council website.

 

 

 

In a statement to ‘Ballymena Daily’, in September a Mid & East Antrim Borough Council spokesperson had said: “Council received an invitation to a North Antrim Annual Business and Community dinner hosted and facilitated by Ian Paisley MP, with special guest Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, then Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs, and sponsored by Belfast International Airport.

“Elected Members at full council in August 2017 agreed, without objection, to purchase this table and the event was attended by Elected Members from different political parties, senior officers and representatives from the agri-food sector across the borough to avail of the opportunity to discuss first-hand with the Minister their issues and concerns in relation to the agri-food sector post-Brexit.

“Council was requested to make payment to The Tullyglass Hotel and did so electronically.

“Mid and East Antrim Borough Council takes its responsibilities in relation to financial prudence and accountability very seriously.”

Now councillors want to discuss events surrounding the dinner.

Notice of a meeting due to be held next Tuesday morning, October 6, in Ballymena, has been posted on the Council website.

Going by the website it appears the discussions will be held behind-closed-doors.

The meeting agenda on the website says the meeting will consider a motion by Coast Road Alliance councillor Gerardine Mulvenna.

The agenda says the motion reads: ‘In light of the Electoral Commission findings that a dinner attended by Council Offices and Representatives in September 2017 was a Party Political Fundraiser’.

The agenda added that calling of the meeting had been signed by councillors from parties including Alliance, Traditional Unionist Voice, SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Fein.

Meanwhile, Bannside Traditional Unionist Voice councillor Timothy Gaston has tabled a question regarding the matter at the full monthly meeting of the Council set to be held on Monday October 5.

The contents of the question tabled by Cllr Gaston can be viewed on the publicly accessible agenda of the meeting on the Council website.

 

 

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