Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Highest standards must be met

Lord Laird has always been one of the more colourful and extrovert political figures in Northern Ireland as embodied by his kilt-wearing endorsement of Ulster-Scots culture and it is sad to learn that he is now receiving treatment for clinical depression.

He feels that this health problem may be the result of a heart attack – although his suspension from the House of Lords over breaches of conduct may have played its part.

Following an investigation into two conversations he had with undercover journalists, he was found to have breached the code of conduct in three areas, including attempting to make deals in return for payment or other reward. There is no suggestion that he gained any material advantage, but the evidence shows his suspension was merited.

It is imperative that politicians, whether in the Commons, or the Lords, adhere to the highest possible standards of conduct.

The public is intolerant of misbehaviour by MPs or peers after the expenses scandal, and yesterday's story of a peer who allegedly just turned up to the Lords for a few minutes each day to claim his £300 attendance allowance, leaves public opinion further jaundiced.

While accepting that Lord Laird has been responsible for many fine actions during his political career, it must also be stated clearly that in the incidents under investigation he fell well below expected standards. It will be difficult for him to rehabilitate himself into party politics here even after his suspension.

Some people may feel that he was entrapped by the media, but that is a case of shooting the messenger and not heeding the message. Journalists have a duty to expose wrongdoing and the media outlets involved – the BBC Panorama programme and the Daily Telegraph – could hardly be described as sensationalist or irresponsible. The onus falls on politicians not to engage in questionable activities.

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