Belfast Telegraph

Haters will hate but I work to deliver for all: North Antrim MP Paisley addresses Commons Sri Lanka report

DUP man prepared for election

By Jonathan Bell

Ian Paisley has again addressed the issues surrounding his ban from the House of Commons and the failure of the recall petition against him stating that while haters will always hate, he puts his continued public service down to his work delivering for everyone he meets.

Last month Mr Paisley survived a bid to oust him from his North Antrim seat when the petition fell 444 signatures short of the required 10% of the electorate in order to force a by-election.

The MP has been banned from the House of Commons for 30-sitting days after failing to declare lavish family holidays and for carrying out paid advocacy for the Sri Lankan government - something Mr Paisley denies.

Speaking to the BBC's Talkback programme, Ian Paisley said the outcome was "miraculous" given he thought "it would be easy" to get the 7,543 signatures required given how 20,000 voted against him in the last election.

He said he was prepared for an election and have even chosen his slogan - although did not reveal it - and his wife was frustrated as he had acquired two A-board vans for the campaign.

Hours after the result was declared Mr Paisley changed his Twitter bio to say he had "90.6% support from recall petition". While he said he was "buoyant" after the result he denied it was factually inaccurate.

"I have never taken for granted my position. Never assumed I would have a seat," he said.

"We can argue the toss. Had it been the other way you would be saying I had only 10% support in the consituency. The point of the matter on social media was to indicate very strongly that was the resolution of the people not to sign the petition.

"And it was very easy to sign the petition. It was one of the easiest things to do. It was not complex, you could do it from the comfort of your own home and post it.

"People will despise me... but I've had thousands of letters and emails congratulating me saying that's why they did not sign."

Turning to the report Mr Paisley acknowledged he had let himself, his friends and family down as well as his constituents although he had hoped the commissioner would have considered more of his mitigation.

A member of the all-party parliamentary group on Sri Lanka he explained officials had become interested in him given his experiences in the peace process and conflict resolution in Northern Ireland.

He said he had openly signed a letter to the then Prime Minister David Cameron lobbying against a UN investigation into human rights abuses in the country as it would be better to allow the country to manage its own internal affairs.

He also he was considered by both the Sinhalese people and the Tamils as an "honourable" broker in the country.

"The idea I was asked to do this and was part of the visit.... This was a year later I was doing this on my own with other MPs they said the two were related and I disagree with that."

On emails on which he stated he had "significant arrangements" with oil company officials in Oman and Nigeria and he could "very quickly" make deal happen, Mr Paisley said that he was passing on contact details, as he would do with anyone in need of help.

"That happens every single day. People ask for help."

He denied "overstating" his influence saying he knew one official "reasonably well".

Asked if that explained the Sri Lankan interest in him, he responded: "I don't believe so."

He also refuted - which had been reported - that his Commons ban was the longest on record. He said in recent years two MPs had banned for 90 days and 365 days respectfully. However, they both resigned their position before having to serve any ban.

On his political record the DUP member - who was suspended from the party as it conducted its own investigation - reckoned he had met some 50,000 of his 76,000 constituents.

"They know me... I am very frank and upfront with people I do not hide behind a political mask, I am my own person."

Asked if his reputation has survived he said it would be damaged "among the haters who will always hate."

He said he did not take the "arrogant" view he would be automatically re-elected.

Asked if his father's name would carry him through in any future election he said: "I can't win on that... I am who I am.

"I have been upfront and open I have not run away.

"I am not shying away from the questions.

"Am I delighted with the outcome? No, I just wish the commissioner would have been more sympathetic to the mitigation I laid out. She wasn't and I took that on the chin.

"It's one of those things I have to chalk it up as a life experience. I can allow something like this to define me or recognise I can learn from it and to be ultra careful in terms of those things."

He added: "You've to move away from things which are evil, but also which appear and could be interpreted as wrong.

"There are things there which can be clearly be interpreted as ways which were not right for me and I should have been more careful.

"I recognise that is really the space I should occupy.

"I have been an elected member for 22 years. It is public service, it is not about self glorification or whatever.

"I enjoy the work I think I have skills for the work and I think the reason why I have been returned so healthily is because I try to deliver for people.

"No matter who they are if they are foreign people who try to meet me or if they are my most local people ... I will work for them."

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