Ian Paisley failed to register a luxury family holiday to the Maldives but he will not face sanctions, a parliamentary inquiry has found.
The 2016 trip was investigated by the parliamentary standards commissioner.
She found on “balance of probabilities that a corporate body rather than a personal friend of Mr Paisley’s had absorbed the cost of the hospitality”.
Kathryn Stone said the North Antrim MP had apologised for not declaring the trip and for delaying her inquiry.
Mr Paisley, a Democratic Unionist Party MP, his wife and two sons received a full-board five-night stay at a Maldives resort in 2016, eight months after he was part of a controversial parliamentary visit to the Indian Ocean islands.
Mrs Stone concluded Mr Paisley and his family received a benefit which should have been registered in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Her report states: “I was persuaded that having received complimentary rooms was something which others might reasonably consider to influence Mr Paisley, which made registration a requirement.”
However, the commissioner also concluded the trip was not funded by a foreign government and the MP did not break any rules on “paid advocacy”.
Mr Paisley’s trip to the Maldives was the subject of a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme in December 2018.
The programme alleged he was given a complimentary holiday at a Maldives resort months after advocating on behalf of its government and it examined whether he should have declared the trip.
‘The true donor’
Mr Paisley claimed he paid for part of the holiday and the rest was paid for by a friend.
He said the friend was unconnected to his work and had received no benefit as a result of his work.
Ms Stone’s report states that “on the basis of all the evidence available to me, bearing in mind that I had concluded that the true donor had been a corporate body and not a foreign government, I did not find that Mr Paisley had acted in breach of the rules on the declaration of interest nor the rules on paid advocacy”.
Her report also states this is not the first time Mr Paisley has broken the rules on the registration of overseas visits.
Mr Paisley was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days for “serious misconduct” for failing to declare two family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013.
‘Not always helpful’
Ms Stone’s report said that in relation to the Maldives trip, Mr Paisley had “acknowledged this new breach of rules”.
She said he had also “apologised unreservedly for it and has agreed to rectify his omission”.
Her report states “he has described to me the steps he has taken to avoid any further recurrence”.
The parliamentary standards commissioner said she initiated the investigation herself following the 2018 BBC Spotlight programme but she added it had “taken far too long to complete”.
She said much of the evidence she had gathered was inconclusive and “some of the accounts given by individuals were inconsistent over time”.
But Ms Stone blamed much of the delay on Mr Paisley, saying he had focused his attention “on rebutting allegations made in the media rather than on answering specifically my questions”.
The commissioner also notes that during her investigations, Mr Paisley’s “responses have not always been helpful”.
She added the MP had since “apologised for unnecessarily delaying my inquiry”.
‘Finely balanced decision’
A DUP spokesman said the party noted the report and that Mr Paisley had “cooperated fully with the investigation”.
“He has already acted on its conclusion and amended his Parliamentary Register of Interests,” the spokesman said.
“The commissioner’s report also raises questions about the BBC’s journalism. We understand that Mr Paisley has put this matter of defamation by the BBC and others in the hands of his solicitor.”
The commissioner has now concluded her investigation and does not intend to take any further action against Mr Paisley.
“I considered very carefully whether it was appropriate to conclude this inquiry by way of the rectification procedure,” Ms Stone said.
“That decision was finely balanced, but I concluded that it was appropriate to do so.”
Mr Paisley has added the Maldives trip to the register.