DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley has "apologised unreservedly" for failing to register a luxury family holiday to the Maldives in 2016 with a parliamentary watchdog.
Mr Paisley issued his apology after the House of Commons parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, ruled that he should have registered the holiday in the Indian Ocean islands.
However, he will not face sanctions as Ms Stone did not find that he acted in breach of the rules on the declaration of interests or paid advocacy.
Ms Stone carried out her inquiry following a BBC Spotlight programme about Mr Paisley’s family holidays in the Maldives four years ago. She referred to how 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”.
In her report, the standards commissioner noted that “this is not the first time Mr Paisley has broken the rules on the registration of overseas visits”.
Two years ago he was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days over "serious misconduct" for failing to declare two family holidays to Sri Lanka paid for by the Sri Lankan government in 2013.
That suspension also resulted in the triggering of a Recall Petition which, if it had been signed by 10 per cent of the electorate in North Antrim, would have seen Mr Paisley ousted as an MP and a by-election called. That petition fell short by about 450 votes.
Mr Paisley said from the outset that a third party had met part of the cost of his family’s stay in the Maldives, describing that third party as a personal rather than a political friend whom he met at a Methodist event more than 10 years ago.
Ms Stone said that Mr Paisley, on that basis, believed he did not need to register the hospitality. Mr Paisley told Ms Stone that “it was only when he went to settle his bill, credit card in hand, that he was told that the rooms had been complimented and there was no balance to pay”.
Mr Paisley said he had “paid for incidentals as and when they’d arisen”.
The commissioner did not accept that a personal friend footed the bill.
“I concluded - on the balance of probabilities - that a corporate body, rather than a personal friend of Mr Paisley’s, had absorbed the cost of the hospitality,” she said.
“Although I saw no evidence that Mr Paisley had engaged in any activities relating to his parliamentary role during his visit, the circumstances were not analogous to a family holiday which was partly paid for by someone else because of a purely personal relationship.
“The fact that Mr Paisley had no direct relationship with the donor created a presumption in favour of registration, and I was persuaded that having received complimentary rooms was something which others might reasonably consider to influence Mr Paisley, which made registration a requirement.”
Crucially, in relation to possible sanctions, Ms Stone “did not find that Mr Paisley had acted in breach of the rules on the declaration of interests nor the rules on paid advocacy”.
Ms Stone also found that much of the delay in concluding her report was because Mr Paisley’s attention was focused on “rebutting allegations made in the media rather than on answering specifically my questions”.
Ms Stone said Mr Paisley had acknowledged his breach of the rules.
“He has apologised unreservedly for it and he has agreed to rectify his omission,” she said.
“He has described to me the steps he has taken to avoid any further recurrence. He has also apologised for unnecessarily delaying my inquiry.”
North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan called on the DUP leadership to take action against Mr Paisley while Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said that "many people in North Antrim are growing weary of Mr Paisley's excuses". He also said Mr Paisley was "very lucky in his friends".