DUP silent on plans to hold Ian Paisley rally
A DUP councillor remained silent yesterday over plans to host a meeting backing suspended MP Ian Paisley.
Causeway Coast and Glens councillor John Finlay wrote a letter encouraging supporters to rally around Mr Paisley at a meeting in Ballymena on August 13.
He declined to comment on the matter further when contacted yesterday.
North Antrim MP Mr Paisley was suspended from Westminster 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 investigation by party officers.
If 10% of voters in his constituency - approximately 7,700 - sign a petition to recall Mr Paisley, the seat will be declared vacant and a poll held. The petition period will run from this Wednesday, August 8, to September 19.
The DUP has been asked if party members attending Mr Finlay's meeting on August 13 will face sanction but it has yet to respond.
One Ballymoney DUP councillor, Ian Stevenson, said Mr Paisley had his "full support" but declined to say if he would attend Mr Finlay's meeting.
"An election would be a needless waste of money but of course others will play politics," he said. "He has apologised and been disciplined by Parliament.
"He is highly regarded within the North Antrim DUP Association and by the electorate, particularly for his hard work on behalf of his constituency.
He added: "There is a strong feeling that the Press and nationalism seem to focus heavily on the DUP, whilst treading gently in regards to Sinn Fein, with the full history that they have.
"Regarding any meeting or any other internal DUP business, I wish to make no comment on this."
Independent Glens councillor Padraig McShane, however, called Mr Paisley "damaged goods" and said it was unwise for DUP councillors to support him in public.
"After accepting the free holidays in Sri Lanka, I don't think Ian Paisley has any authority to speak on behalf of anybody," he said. "I work with John Finlay in the council and a number of committees. I would suggest to him that the public will judge Mr Paisley and he'd be best staying away from it.
"It's hard to know if Ian Paisley will survive the recall petition, to me it seems insurmountable.
"I think he put himself before the public. So for anybody stepping out to support Ian Paisley at this stage, I would say it's curtains for them as well."
Mr Finlay's letter encouraging support for Mr Paisley, which has been seen by the Belfast Telegraph, said the "media frenzy" over the scandal had caused him "great sadness".
In it he said that many saw this as their chance to oust "Northern Ireland's most gifted voice in Parliament on Brexit".
It added: "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."
The letter said the planned meeting with Mr Paisley would "show the world that the friends of Ian Paisley still stand behind the man they believe in, good times and bad".
Last week, it emerged that Mr Paisley's party affiliation has been changed to 'independent' on Parliament's website following his suspension from the DUP.
A House of Commons spokesperson said the change of status was a reflection of the fact he is suspended, and does not mean Mr Paisley has left the party.
It is understood the action was taken by the House of Commons without contact from the DUP. Similar action has been taken with other parliamentarians suspended from their parties.