DUP councillor in call to colleagues to show support for Paisley at meeting
DUP councillors in Ian Paisley's North Antrim constituency have rallied to a call from a Ballymoney colleague to throw their support behind their beleaguered MP.
While councillor John Finlay has remained silent over a letter sent to DUP representatives encouraging them to rally around Mr Paisley at a meeting in Ballymena on August 13, representatives on the ground have welcomed the show of support.
The party has declined to say whether anyone attending would risk sanctions.
One Mid and East Antrim Borough DUP councillor, Sam Hanna, said those who think they can unseat Mr Paisley are "buck eejits".
"We're 100% behind him, so others shouldn't bother wasting their money trying to challenge him," he said.
Mr Paisley was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days after failing to declare two luxury family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.
He has also been suspended from the DUP pending an investigation by party officers and is currently listed as an Independent MP.
If 10% of voters in his constituency - 7,547 people - sign a petition to recall Mr Paisley, the seat will be declared vacant and a poll held.
The petition period will run from tomorrow until September 19.
Backing his MP, one long-standing councillor in the Paisley heartland of Ballymena, Tommy Nicholl, said: "I have always been a DUP man and always been a Paisley man. I was in Sandy Row Orange Hall the night the party was formed.
"I've been around the DUP a long, long time and Ian Paisley will always have my support."
His comments were typical of those who responded, although most did not directly state if they would attend.
In the letter, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Finlay said he had been following the "media frenzy" around the House of Commons Standards Committee judgment against Mr Paisley "with great sadness".
He said: "Many see this as their opportunity to oust Northern Ireland's most gifted voice in Parliament on Brexit.
"They also see it as an opportunity to rid themselves finally of Paisley's voice in defence of the Union and on the biblical moral issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion."
Mr Finlay said that this is why a few of Mr Paisley's friends had decided to call a meeting with him - "to show our support and hear from him first-hand how we tackle the future". He added: "Let us show the world that the friends of Ian Paisley still stand behind the man they believe in, good times and bad."
The DUP has been asked if any party members attending Mr Finlay's meeting on August 13 will face sanction but it has yet to respond.
The Electoral Office says there will be three places in the constituency where eligible voters can sign the recall petition - the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre in Ballymoney; the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena, and Sheskburn House Recreation Centre in Ballycastle.
Yesterday Sinn Fein registered its objections to the use of just three centres with limited opening hours.
Commenting after meeting with the Electoral Office today, North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan said more must be done to ensure the democratic process is not subverted.
"This is simply not good enough," he said.
"It greatly reduces people's ability to reject the disgraceful behaviour of Ian Paisley in accepting lavish family holidays from the Sri Lankan government before lobbying against a UN investigation into war crimes and human rights abuses.
"North Antrim is a large constituency and Sinn Fein proposed that the recall petition should be available in as many as 10 local government offices in the constituency.
"We urged the Electoral Office to rethink this decision and to provide more centres and more flexible opening times to ensure that the democratic process is not subverted."
Will you attend the meeting? ...how the DUP councillors in Ian Paisley’s constituency responded
“Not aware of any letter from Cllr Finlay so can’t comment any further”
‘I’m 100% behind Ian and that’s all I’m going to say.’
‘I will go along and see what will be said. There were very few details of what will be discussed in the letter. I won’t know what’s going to be said until I attend. It will be good to get information.’
‘Absolutely no comment to make’.
‘Ian Paisley has my full support. He is highly regarded within the North Antrim DUP Association and by the electorate, particularly for his hard work on behalf of his constituency. Regarding any meeting or any other internal DUP business, I wish to make no comment on this.’
‘I have had no word of any meeting and I’ll be away on holidays over August 13.’
‘Yes, I am aware of the letter and it would be my intention to attend any meeting. I feel I have to be present to listen to the facts from the horse’s mouth.’
‘Not aware of any meeting.’
‘I did receive the letter but unfortunately I will be away on the day the meeting is scheduled. But I don’t need special arrangements to meet with my local MP. I can meet Mr Paisley anytime.’
‘I’ve been on holiday so you’re breaking news to me that I haven’t heard, but I would certainly support Ian Paisley as one of his councillors.’
‘I have always been a DUP man and always been a Paisley man. I was in Sandy Row Orange Hall the night the party was formed. I’ve been around the DUP a long long time and Ian Paisley will always have my support.’
“Ian Paisley is getting all the support he needs. I’m not aware of any meeting but we’re 100% behind him. Others shouldn’t bother wasting their money challenging him, he has all the support and will walk any election if it comes to that. They’re ‘buck eejits’ if they think otherwise.