DUP MP Ian Paisley should face no further sanctions for his serious misconduct and should be allowed to stand as the party’s candidate in the event of a by-election, a senior party colleague has said.
Sammy Wilson said the under-fire North Antrim MP had been “punished enough” for his failure to declare two lavish family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.
Senior members of the DUP held a private meeting on Saturday to discuss Mr Paisley’s future, following a parliamentary watchdog’s recommendation that he be suspended from Westminster for 30 days.
The outcome of the meeting is not known, and the party yesterday declined to issue a statement on the matter.
However, DUP veteran Mr Wilson yesterday said he did not believe there should be any additional sanctions imposed on Mr Paisley for behaviour.
“I believe he has admitted he was wrong, he didn’t try to hide it, he has stood up and publicly apologised for it and he has been punished very severely, and I believe that should be the end of the matter,” the East Antrim MP told the BBC’s Sunday Politics NI show.
Presenter Mark Carruthers asked Mr Wilson if he felt Mr Paisley should be allowed to stand as the DUP’s candidate in North Antrim if a by-election is forced.
However, the question provoked a heated reaction from Mr Wilson, who responded: “Are you saying we should sack him? If you are suggesting that then I think you have a bit of a brass neck.”
He pointed out that Mr Paisley’s punishment had come in the same week that singer Cliff Richard was awarded £210,000 in damages after winning a privacy case against the BBC over the corporation’s coverage of a police raid on his home.
Mr Wilson added: “Do you think journalists in the BBC when they act the way they did with Cliff Richard should be forced to resign?”
Mr Carruthers said people would “see through” Mr Wilson’s response to the question.
Following the heated exchange, the East Antrim MP answered: “I have worked with Ian Paisley in the House of Commons. He is a great MP and the reason he has a massive majority is because people in his constituency know that he works hard for them.
“He is one of the most diligent MPs and I think he deserves to be the candidate.”
However, Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard, who was also on the programme, said: “This is a test for the DUP leadership and they should be requesting the resignation of Ian Paisley.”
A penitent Mr Paisley issued a public apology in the House of Commons last Thursday after he was found to have breached parliamentary rules.
The MP, who at one point quoted the Bible, said he accepted the damning outcome of the investigation into his conduct and offered “the profoundest of all apologies”.
He insisted that he had “no ulterior motive for that genuine mistake” not to declare the two expensive junkets.
The recommendation to suspend Mr Paisley will now go before the House of Commons tomorrow for approval, in the form of a motion.
If the motion is passed, Mr Paisley’s suspension from the Commons will begin on September 4 and will last for 30 sitting days – meaning he would be unable to return to his duties until mid-November.
Mr Paisley will lose his salary during that period – a punishment in the region of £15,000.
Due to the severity of Mr Paisley’s offence, once the suspension has been formally confirmed, Commons Speaker John Bercow must write to Northern Ireland’s chief electoral officer, who must then organise a public petition to allow North Antrim voters to decide whether to force a by-election.
If 10% of the electorate – in North Antrim that would currently be 7,737 people – sign the petition, Mr Paisley will lose his seat, although he would be free to stand in the by-election.