DUP declines to reveal whether Ian Paisley will face party sanctions

The DUP has not yet revealed what action, if any, will be taken against Ian Paisley after claims the North Antrim MP failed to declare lavish hospitality in the Maldives.

A number of complaints have been made to the Commissioner for Standards at Westminster over the content of a BBC Spotlight programme – which broadcast details of the MP’s trip to the Indian Ocean state just months after advocating on behalf of the Maldives government.

Ian Paisley pictured in Ballymena. Photo: Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

Ian Paisley pictured in Ballymena. Photo: Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

The programme said the evidence suggested that the trip to a luxury hotel complex was facilitated by Hussain Hilmy, the resort owner who is a former Maldivian government minister.

Mr Paisley insisted he had paid towards the cost of the holiday with the rest funded by a mystery friend who he has declined to identify. He said the October 2016 holiday did not therefore need to be declared in the House of Commons register of members’ interests.

The potentially damaging claims come just weeks after he returned to the House of Commons from the longest suspension ever handed to an MP.

His suspension of 30 sitting days ordered after revelations he was gifted luxury holidays by the Sri Lankan government, and then advocated on behalf of the regime which was facing allegations of war crimes.

Six months before his family holiday in October 2016, Mr Paisley was one of three MPs to visit the Maldives as part of the All-Party British-Maldives Parliamentary Group. The trip was paid for by the Maldivian government.

Speaking at a press conference during the visit, the group’s chair Sir David Amess insisted that the Maldives government “unfortunately has been portrayed in a rather unfair fashion”.

The Maldives is a strictly Sunni Islam country where the importation of Bibles is prohibited and it remains an offence to publicly express Christian views.

At the same press briefing, Mr Paisley rejected any suggestions that the group’s objectivity was challenged by the luxurious hospitality.

He responded saying: “If people are suggesting we are having our strings pulled by others, they don’t know very much about me or my colleagues.”

Foreign Office advice for those visiting the Maldives states: “Same-sex relations are illegal and convicted offenders could face lengthy prison sentences and fines,” and adds: “Public observance of any religion other than Islam is prohibited.”

In a statement on Wednesday, the DUP said: “The party officers will want to consider these very serious matters being mindful of the high standards we require of elected representatives.”

When asked on Thursday if Mr Paisley will be meeting party officers – or if party officers will meet to discuss the latest claims – the DUP declined to offer any further comment.

The BBC reported on Wednesday that Mr Paisley had contacted the parliamentary standards body to discuss the allegations.

In a statement to Spotlight on Tuesday, Mr Paisley said: “I have responded in clear and categoric terms to your questions.

“For the record, the government of the Maldives did not organise or pay for my family vacation in 2016, which I do not intend to go into with you.”

At the DUP conference last month, party leader Arlene Foster acknowledged that the behaviour of DUP representatives had not always been of the “standards expected”.

She said: “I know I speak for many when I say that over the course of the last twelve months there have been a number of other areas where behaviour in our ranks has not matched the standards expected of people holding public office.

“We must ensure there is no repeat of such behaviour and that those high standards we aspire to ourselves and that others rightly require of us are applicable at every level within this party.”