The DUP has distanced itself from controversy surrounding North Antrim MP Ian Paisley and his decision to bill a charity more than £6,000 following his appearance at a major peace conference in the USA last year.
Mr Paisley has been widely criticised for flying first class to Co-operation Ireland’s 20 Years of Peace event in New York at a cost of over £5,000, while other politicians from Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic who were taking part travelled economy class at a fraction of the cost.
While Mr Paisley has insisted his decision to fly first class was dictated by his “last-minute” invite to the event, it has now emerged that his name was included on the list of speakers just over two weeks before the conference.
Stressing that Mr Paisley took part in the conference in a personal capacity and that the party was not involved in arranging his travel or accommodation, a DUP spokesman said: “Ian Paisley attended this event in a personal capacity and registered the associated costs paid by Co-Operation Ireland as required.
“The party was not involved in making any of these arrangements.”
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr Paisley described the matter as “a load of rubbish” and said he didn’t want to make any further comment.
However, in an earlier interview with the Belfast Telegraph he insisted his attendance was only confirmed two days before the event and claimed the criticism of his actions was part of a “media witch-hunt” against him.
He said the trip only lasted 24 hours due to “unbreakable engagements” at Westminster the day before and in Ballymena the day after.
“I only confirmed my attendance at the NYC event after it was confirmed that I could meet my previous engagements the day before travelling and the day after the event when I had to be in Northern Ireland. And not before it was confirmed that the costs were cleared,” he said.
“There was much discussion about this event in the weeks before it.
“None of that changes the fact that I had unbreakable engagements either side of it and could only be there for less than a day.
“Most sane people would understand that sort of scheduling has an impact on costs.”
The 20 Years of Peace event was held at The Metropolitan Club in Manhattan in February 2018 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
It was attended by a number of politicians and community representatives from across the island of Ireland, including Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney who flew economy class.