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Council officers face grilling over dinner

CAUSEWAY Coast and Glens Council's sponsorship of a table at a DUP-hosted dinner will be the subject of a special meeting called by elected members on Monday evening (September 24).

The event at Ballymena's Tullyglass Hotel last September was billed as a community and business engagement dinner, and Causeway Coast and Glens was one of two councils that forked out £1500 for a table.

The payment by Mid and Eat Antrim has since been declared by the Electoral Commission “a “donation” to North Antrim MP Ian Paisley.

Both councils have been criticised for allowing rate-payers money to be spent on a fund-raiser for a political party.

On Monday elected members are expected to grill officers who authorised the payment.

But while the SDLP and Sinn Fein have led the clamour for an explanation, the council's sole Conservative member said he believed Causeway Coast and Glens officers "genuinely thought it was a business event".

The council itself insists the occasion was a valuable networking opportunity for guests from the food and hospitality sector and a chance to question Westminster Environment Secretary, Michael Gove on issues surrounding Brexit.

North Antrim MLA Jim Allister has since waded into the row, saying the DUP must come clean on who profited from the dinner.

"Patently, the £1500 contributed by each council, for a table of 10 in each case, exceeded the actual cost of the ten dinners provided in each case,” he said.

“So, who benefited from the surplus of public money that went towards paying the total hotel bill? Did it mean the DUP/Ian Paisley had a resulting smaller balance bill? If so, then, the DUP/Ian Paisley were beneficiaries of the council contributions.

In a statement, Mr Paisley said he was "content to wait for the outcome of the commission's inquiry" which he added "commenced after political rivals made a complaint".

He said his "annual community and business engagement dinner in Ballymena was very successful and enjoyed by all who attended."

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