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Councillors claim microphones turned off during debate about DUP dinners

By Victoria Leonard ·

Patrice Hardy of Sinn Fein

Councillors seeking clarity over DUP dinners in Co Antrim say they were "silenced" after their microphones were "turned off" at a meeting of a local authority.

Two councillors - Sinn Fein's Patrice Hardy and the TUV's Timothy Gaston - claim attempts were made to silence them at a full meeting of Mid and East Antrim Council on Monday night.

A DUP dinner with Cabinet Minister Michael Gove was hosted by the party's North Antrim MP Ian Paisley at Ballymena's Tullyglass House Hotel last September. At the time, the DUP described it in the Press as "an annual MP's constituency dinner", and denied it was "a DUP fundraising dinner".

Mid and East Antrim council took a £1,500 table at the dinner, which was attended by chief executive Anne Donaghy, council officers, elected members and agri-food sector representatives.

A second event, the North Antrim DUP dinner, was held on February 23 at Galgorm resort.

It was sponsored by Belfast International Airport and featured former Cabinet minister Priti Patel, who was interviewed by Mr Paisley.

The event was described by former DUP MLA Phillip Logan as a "fundraiser" for the party's "war chest".

However, the invitation sent to Mid and East Antrim council did not mention the event was the annual North Antrim DUP dinner, and the council did not take a table.

On Monday, there was a heated exchange between DUP mayor Paul Reid and Mr Gaston after the TUV representative questioned whether Mr Paisley had tried to arrange a separate meeting between Ms Patel and the council.

Following tense exchanges, chief executive Anne Donaghy stated that no such meeting occurred.

Ms Hardy then attempted to talk about the DUP dinner involving Michael Gove.

Despite being refused permission by the mayor for not abiding by standing order procedure, she continued to talk.

There were heated exchanges between the mayor and Ms Hardy and she claimed her microphone was then turned off.

The councillor revealed she had obtained an invitation to the 2017 event which shows that, while guests were asked to make cheques payable to the Tullyglass House Hotel, they were to be posted to Ian Paisley Jr's constituency office.

She stated: "I found the mayor's nature very aggressive.

"I believe this was an attempt to silence and gag us, and I will be asking the local government auditor to investigate further."

Mr Gaston also claimed his microphone had been turned off.

Mr Reid insisted he "remains neutral at all times" and "would not be aggressive to anyone".

A council spokesperson said elected members had "agreed to purchase" a £1,500 table at the 2017 dinner during a full council meeting, and that the local authority had made an electronic payment to the Tullyglass Hotel as requested.

The council "completely rejected" Ms Hardy's claim that her microphone was turned off.

Regarding Mr Gaston, the spokesperson said it was standing order procedure for a member to cease speaking when the mayor calls a meeting to order.

Regarding Mr Gaston, the spokesperson said it was standing order procedure for a member to cease speaking when the mayor calls a meeting to order.

The DUP did not respond to a request for comment, but a party spokesman has previously said: "Ian Paisley hosts an annual MP's constituency dinner. The event was attended by civic and political figures from across the community. It was not a DUP fundraising dinner."

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Patrice Hardy of Sinn Fein
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The DUP’s Paul Reid
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Mid and East Antrim Council chief executive Anne Donaghy