Ian Paisley: No comment over accepting £1,000 gift from bookie

Ian Paisley with his father in 2009
Ian Paisley with his father in 2009

DUP MP Ian Paisley has refused to comment after it emerged he accepted a four-figure gift from a gambling firm after previously criticing the industry.

The North Antrim Parliamentarian was given two Premier League football tickets by London-based bookmaker William Hill in March this year.

The entry recently appeared in the Commons’ Register of Members Interests, and the total value of the tickets and “associated hospitality” is given as £1,000.

In a DUP statement issued in Mr Paisley’s name last May, the MP hit out at Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, or FOBTs (a type of gaming machine used by many bookmakers including William Hill) saying they offered “ridiculously low odds of winning” at a cost of up to £100 per spin.

He dubbed them “a plague on many families”.

The same statement went on to add that such betting machines are just one part of the issue, adding that “online gambling addiction is the real problem”. People are “bombarded with encouragement to gamble online” he said, and called on the government to intervene.

As well as its shops, William Hill also runs an online gambling operation.

In the Commons chamber itself, whilst in 2011 Mr Paisley voted to tighten the law on planning permission for betting shops, he was absent from votes in 2013 and 2014 on fixed-odds betting machines according to the website TheyWorkForYou, which tracks MPs’ voting records.

His father Rev Paisley had taken a strident line on the issue of betting – in 1992 he told the Commons: “The gambling craze is no new sprite but an old transgression that’s come down the centuries, bringing with it a thousand woes.”

The News Letter contacted Mr Paisley yesterday. He was asked about why, given his past calls to tighten regulation of the gambling industry, he accepted the gift.

“I’ve really no comment to make”, he said.

He was also asked about his father’s views on the subject, to which he said: “I’ve really no comment to make.”

Asked lastly if he would even say which match he attended, he replied: “I’ve really no comment to make.”

The Commons register shows the gift from William Hill was received on March 10, 2019, and registered five days later.

Assuming the tickets were used on March 10, he could have been at one of three matches: Liverpool v Burnley, Chelsea v Wolves, or Arsenal v Man Utd.

In addition, looking through Mr Paisley’s register for 2018 shows that in May that year, the same month he made his statement calling for a clampdown on gambling, he used £2,700-worth of travel and hospitality provided by the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel.

The address of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel listed in the Commons’ register is “c/o Oasis Retail Services Ltd, Mallusk Drive, Newtownabbey”.

Founded by NI-born man Gerald Steinberg in 1968, Oasis describes itself as the “premier supplier of gaming and betting machines to licensed betting offices in Northern Ireland”.

These include things such as poker machines.

Mark Baillie, Northern Ireland policy officer for the charity Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), which has been critical of the gambling industry, did not address Mr Paisley’s specific case but said in general: “We hope elected representatives think very carefully about taking money from the gambling industry.

“Obviously we don’t want the industry, with all its financial muscle, to be exerting undue influence on our politicians.

“Problem gambling is a very serious issue here in Northern Ireland and we have four times as many problem gamblers than in England.”