Belfast Telegraph

DUP has lost patience with Ian Paisley in wake of latest holiday claims

DUP MP Ian Paisley speaks at the NI Affairs Committee yesterday
DUP MP Ian Paisley speaks at the NI Affairs Committee yesterday
Ian Paisley with wife Fiona
The Maldives
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Pressure is mounting on Ian Paisley after senior DUP sources expressed exasperation with new claims about luxury foreign holidays.

Politicians from across the spectrum have called for the parliamentary standards watchdog to reinvestigate the North Antrim MP and for his party to take internal action following the allegations.

Arlene Foster yesterday acknowledged that "serious issues" had been raised in a BBC Spotlight programme about her MP's trips to the Maldives.

A DUP statement said that party officers would "consider these matters within the context of our disciplinary process and any other relevant authority".

Sinn Fein, SDLP, Ulster Unionists, Alliance and TUV all called on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone to examine the allegations made against Mr Paisley.

Parliamentary rules prevent Ms Stone from either confirming or denying if she has already launched an investigation.

A senior DUP source said: "It is not a case of losing patience with Ian jnr - patience has already been lost with him."

The source predicted that the strong support shown to Mr Paisley by local DUP activists during his previous controversy could be greatly reduced this time.

Opinion in the heart of his constituency appears to be hardening against him.

People in Ballymena yesterday told the Belfast Telegraph that he had let them down and that he urgently needed to answer questions about his holidays.

The MP could not be contacted for comment yesterday by the Belfast Telegraph.

He did not respond to BBC Spotlight over the questions it raised either.

The programme claimed that one of a number of undeclared luxury family holidays he reportedly took was paid for by a former minister in the Maldives government, while another trip had also been complimentary.

Mr Paisley was suspended from the House of Commons in 2018 for 30 days for "serious misconduct" for failing to declare two family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013.

He survived Parliament's first-ever recall petition last year.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said he had raised the allegations against the DUP MP with Ms Stone.

"There's no point in him hiding away until the heat dies down. The continued foreign escapades of the Member of Parliament for North Antrim do nothing to enhance the reputation of the area," he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mrs Foster must be prepared to take speedy action against the MP. He said: "Ian Paisley's Maldives jetsetting has already disgraced his office and earned him a record suspension from Westminster.

"These new revelations further degrade his reputation and they degrade trust in politics.

"Ian Paisley should come forward now and clarify the circumstances of these holidays, who paid for them and on what basis. If he does not, then it is for Arlene Foster to take action and to do so quickly."

TUV leader Jim Allister also called on the DUP to act.

"Whatever Ian Paisley's attitude to transparency, surely his party cannot ignore this further Spotlight expose," he said.

"Even by Ian Paisley's standards, the latest BBC Spotlight revelations are shocking. Hardworking people in North Antrim, who pay their own way in life, are unlikely to be impressed.

"My wider concern is the further damage done to Unionism plc. Such self-inflicted injury is not what we need or expect from a unionist MP."

Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan said: "The DUP announced in December that it was investigating the first wave of Maldives allegations but we have heard nothing since then about what actions have been taken to discipline their shamed MP. Another tearful 'mea culpa' apology from Ian Paisley just isn't going to be enough.

"These allegations are gravely serious and they need to be treated as such by the authorities and Ian Paisley's own party."

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said: "If this behaviour is true, and he is found to be guilty of it, Mr Paisley will have once again let down not only his constituents but also himself.

"If we are to regain the trust of the wider public in politics, there must be full openness and transparency from everyone." Mrs Foster yesterday said she had so far been unable to watch the Spotlight programme, but that its claims would be investigated by party officers.

"As you know, Ian was suspended for 57 days last year by the party," she said.

"He is now back in the party under sanction and those sanctions still exist. But we will look at that and deal with those serious issues that have been raised by the Spotlight programme."

In a statement the DUP said: "We note the serious issues raised in the programme. The party officers will consider these matters within the context of our disciplinary process and any other relevant authority.

"Ian Paisley MP was suspended from the party for 57 days.

"He was readmitted to membership, with conditions. Amongst other sanctions, was a ban on holding office in the party for 12 months. That ban is still in place.

"We require high standards from our elected representatives. Discipline is an internal party matter. We do not give a running commentary."

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