Ian Paisley challenges BBC to prove Maldives holiday claims

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley pictured at an election count in Ballymena

NORTH Antrim MP Ian Paisley has challenged the BBC to submit its evidence to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards over claims he accepted a luxury holiday from a Maldivian government minister.

He dismissed a suggestion his constituents deserved an explanation saying he had a “good and sound” relationship with them.

The DUP MP is facing fresh questions over a number of trips he reportedly took to the Maldives, one of which its claimed was paid for by a former minister in Indian Ocean nation’s government.

The DUP said it will consider the “serious issues” raised.

“If the BBC think I have done anything wrong, all the BBC have to do is to submit evidence to the Parliamentary Commissioner,” Mr Paisley told the BBC in his first interview on the claims.

“The independent authority can examine on all of those matters and make their own ruling. That’s the only comment I can make.”

UUP, Alliance, Sinn Fein and the SDLP have all said they have submitted a complaint to the standards commissioner.

Mr Paisley added: “I am always happy to talk at length to the BBC about all the matters and questions you may have.

“I would love to be able to give you a running commentary but I am not able.”

Asked if his constituents deserved a full explanation, he said: “Don’t worry about my constituents; my constituents and me have a very good and sound relationship.”

On Thursday the BBC defended its investigation into the MP after chair of the DUP North Antrim association told his accusers to “put up or shut up” and present any “hard evidence” they have.

Causeway Coast and Glens Councillor John Finlay also pointed out there was no taxpayer money involved, saying Mr Paisley was an “excellent public representative”.

A BBC spokesperson said: “As an MP, Ian Paisley is bound by certain rules of conduct.

“BBC Spotlight’s investigation found evidence which suggests two further luxury holidays to the Maldives which Mr Paisley did not register, despite part of both holidays appearing to have been provided on a complimentary basis.

“According to the resort owner, one of these holidays was paid for by an individual, who at the time, was a Maldivian cabinet minister.”

Last year Mr Paisley apologised to the House of Commons for failing to register two family holidays funded by the Sri Lankan government, which he previously estimated was worth £50,000.

Last year, Mr Paisley avoided facing a by-election after fewer than the necessary 10% of his constituents signed a recall petition.

North Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan, this week, said: “Any new recall petition to unseat DUP MP Ian Paisley must learn the lessons of the last one by ensuring the electorate has the opportunity to have their say.

“In the aftermath of the latest media revelations regarding the North Antrim MP’s links to the Maldives government, we could well see another recall petition taking place in the constituency.

“Sinn Féin raised serious concerns during the last recall petition – particularly regarding the lack of accessibility for the electorate due to the restricted opening times and the decision to open only three signing centres.

“The lack of an effective public awareness campaign was also an issue which had a significant impact on the outcome of the petition.

“All of this was in stark contrast to two subsequent recall petitions which took place in England with at least double the number of signing centres as we had in North Antrim and much more generous opening times. Unsurprisingly, both these petitions had successful outcomes.

“These lessons must be learned and I have written to the Chief Electoral Officer requesting that in the event of a new recall petition in North Antrim, 10 signing centres should be established with early and late opening times.

“The Electoral Office have a responsibility to facilitate the electorate to exercise their democratic right to vote in elections and to sign a recall petition.”

Also this week, TUV Bannside Timothy Gaston issued a statement.

Mr Gaston said: “I have had it confirmed that I will not be prosecuted after saying online that I signed the petition to recall Ian Paisley as MP for North Antrim.

“One does have to question Mr Paisley’s priorities. He found time for this puerile complaint to the police when he would have been better employed in meeting his obligations to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. Had he really nothing better to do than report a fellow Unionist to the PSNI?

“With police resources already well over stretched I wonder how much this farce has cost the public purse? I am sure many people across North Antrim would agree with me that the police time Ian Paisley wasted on me would of been better spent investigating genuine crime in the area.”

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