Ulster Unionist Party Chairman for Fermanagh and South Tyrone James Cooper has confirmed that he travelled economy class to New York for the charity hosted peace conference that Democratic Unionist Ian Paisley Junior flew first class to attend.

This comes following last week’s revelation by the Irish News that Mr. Paisley was reimbursed a total of £6,327.34 travel and accommodation expenses by charity Co-operation Ireland for his attendance of their ’20 Years of Peace’ conference in New York, which he was invited to speak at in February 2018.

The figures were included in the House of Commons Register of Members’ Financial Interests and revealed that Mr. Paisley’s first class flights cost £5,925.11.

As a representative for the Ulster Unionist Party, Mr. Cooper was invited to speak as part of a panel at the Co-operation Ireland peace conference.

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter, Mr. Cooper said: “I travelled in the same class as all the other invitees who, my understanding is, all went economy and were funded by Co-operation Ireland and their accommodation was paid for.”

He added: “Everyone apart from Paisley, as far as what I am aware, went economy class.”

Talking about his involvement at the ’20 Years of Peace’ conference which marked the 20th anniversary year of the Good Friday Agreement, Mr. Cooper said: “I was invited by Co-operation Ireland to speak on the panel which was dealing with the Peace Process and what the current politicians thought the present situation was.”

He continued: “I was on the panel with George Mitchell, Ian Paisley Junior, a woman called Nancy Soderberg who is an American politician who was involved at that stage of the Peace Process and Mark Durkan.”

“We sat on a panel in the premises of Co-operation Ireland in the middle of New York and there was an invited audience by Co-operation Ireland of principally New York businessmen, lawyers and people who had been involved in the Irish American Diaspora over the last 20 years,” he added.

Speaking this week to the Ballymena Guardian, Mr. Paisley claimed that the reason he took a first class flight was because he was asked to attend the conference “just a couple of days before travelling.” He said: “All the travel costs were pre-approved by Co-operation Ireland. I was asked at the last minute by Co-operation Ireland to speak at this event as another speaker had unexpectedly become unavailable. I was asked to attend just a couple of days before travelling.”

He continued: “Initially I refused as I could not make the time off work as I was in parliament the day before and the day after the event and I had unbreakable engagements in my constituency. The organisers said they would fly me back immediately. I was there for 24 hours. I understand that all the costs were met by the charity sponsor of the event and not from charity funds. I certainly did not bill for my services.”

“The organisation paid for the travel directly and agreed everything in advance. I put myself out to be there for less than a day to help complete their conference panel,” he added.