DUP may endorse Ian Paisley in by-election despite £50k freebie and serious misconduct revelations
The DUP has suspended Ian Paisley, but party sources last night said he was still likely to be its candidate if a by-election is called in North Antrim.
The House of Commons yesterday voted to exclude the DUP MP for 30 sitting days - the joint-longest period for any member in almost 70 years. He breached parliamentary rules by not declaring two luxury foreign holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.
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Speaker of the House John Bercow described it as "a regrettable state of affairs" as the DUP suspended the son of its late founder Ian Paisley Snr.
The chief electoral officer will be informed of Parliament's decision and will have 10 working days to set up a petition of recall.
If the petition is signed by 10% of the North Antrim electorate, Mr Paisley must stand down and a by-election will be called.
A by-election would take place in late autumn at the earliest.
The DUP MP's suspension from the Commons will run from September 4 until mid-November and will deprive the minority Tory Government of a crucial vote on key Brexit matters.
Politicians from across the sectarian divide have demanded that Mr Paisley resign or that the DUP remove him. However, the MP has vowed that he "will not go quietly into the night" and has branded those who want a by-election as "opportunists... some with questionable motives".
In a short statement yesterday, the DUP said its party officers had considered the Commons Committee on Standards' report on the North Antrim MP.
"The party takes this report and the matters contained within it very seriously," it said.
"The party officers have decided to suspend Mr Ian Paisley MP from membership of the party pending further investigation into his conduct.
"The party does not intend to make any further comment on these matters during the course of the above outlined process."
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill challenged the DUP to clearly state where it stood regarding its MP's behaviour.
She noted that Mr Paisley's colleagues in Westminster had overwhelmingly voted to impose the most serious sanction handed to any MP since 1949.
"When you consider some of the sleaze, corruption and criminal scandals that have engulfed the British Parliament during that time, that is quite extraordinary," she said.
Mrs O'Neill added the DUP needed to be clear "as to whether they are prepared to defend a lack of integrity in public office".
She said: "They need to be clear whether they believe it was acceptable for one of their MPs to be actively lobbying on behalf of a regime that carried out mass murder, war crimes and gross human rights abuses.
"And if indeed this scandal does lead to a by-election in North Antrim, the DUP need to be clear whether they will endorse Ian Paisley as a candidate, given his clear intention to stand."
TUV leader Jim Allister said: "Today in Parliament, Ian Paisley reaped what he sowed. The biggest losers in this scandalous saga are the Brexit voting people of North Antrim, who in upcoming crucial votes will now be left without a voice or a vote, because of the selfish antics of Mr Paisley."
The UUP said the DUP approach to Mr Paisley's breach of rules was not transparent.
A party spokesman said: "Parliament has been very clear in its findings of the seriousness of Ian Paisley's actions, with the Standards Committee concluding that he was guilty of 'serious misconduct'. The Standards Committee has also been very clear in delivering the most severe sanction against an MP in decades.
"What is not so clear is what the DUP expect to find beyond that which has already been uncovered by a lengthy forensic investigation carried out by Parliament's Standards Committee. The ball remains very firmly at the feet of Arlene Foster."
Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International said that while Mr Paisley's suspension from Parliament had received much attention, the "real victims of this scandal are those who were disappeared, tortured and killed in Sri Lanka".
He added: "This is really a scandal about an MP attempting to stand in the way of international justice for the tens of thousands of civilians who lost their lives at the hands of the Sri Lankan government and the so-called Tamil Tigers.
"Mr Paisley's suspension is the longest issued to an MP in almost 70 years.
In March 2014, the MP lobbied against a proposed United Nations resolution to investigate alleged human rights abuses during the Sri Lankan civil war.
"Britain ignored his call and voted for the resolution."
In an article yesterday for his local newspaper, the Ballymena Guardian, Mr Paisley said while he deeply regretted his actions, he would not be resigning.
"There are also some who would have me booted out of Parliament and a by-election called to fill that vacancy.
"They are opportunists, some with questionable motives, and I can tell them that I have no intention of going quietly into the night," he said.
"If a petition leads to a by-election, make no mistake about it, I will seek re-election as I have never run away from an election in my life and don't intend to do so now."
The DUP MP said he had visited Sri Lanka many times, discussing the Northern Ireland peace process and its relevance internationally.
He has insisted he made a "genuine mistake" in not declaring the luxury holidays and has apologised to Parliament, his party and constituents.
The Standards Committee said he had committed "serious misconduct", and his actions were of a nature to bring the Commons into disrepute.