Belfast Telegraph

Paisley Jnr 'unaffected' by claims

Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson has insisted Ian Paisley Jnr's standing within the party will not be affected by his father's explosive claims about an alleged plot to oust him from front-line politics.

DUP co-founder Dr Ian Paisley, 87, levelled a series of hard-hitting allegations against Mr Robinson and other senior leadership figures in the party in a documentary that examined his resignation as leader and Stormont first minister in 2008.

As well as claiming Mr Robinson - his successor as first minister and party leader - and current deputy leader Nigel Dodds issued him with deadline ultimatums to leave, the former North Antrim MP, now Lord Bannside, was highly critical of an internal DUP survey that had questioned his own ability to do the job and characterised his politician son, then a junior minister in the Stormont administration, as a liability.

The broadcast of the BBC programme has led to speculation about what the future now holds for Ian Paisley Jnr, who succeeded his father as DUP MP for North Antrim in 2010.

Mr Robinson, in his first public appearance since the documentary aired on Monday night, said Ian Paisley Jnr had been left in a "difficult position".

"I give him advice as a father, rather than a party leader or as first minister, and I don't think he should say or do anything that makes his relationship with his family more difficult," he said.

"That is an important element for him to keep, particularly at this stage of his parents' lives."

Mr Robinson made clear the documentary would not affect Mr Paisley Jnr's standing in the party.

"Nor will it affect any relationship he has with me," he added.

"And I hope he clearly gets that message."

Ian Paisley Jnr has so far not commented publicly on the documentary.

In regard to the allegations made in the programme, Mr Robinson maintained the official line first issued by the party on Sunday that he would not comment on the detail, other than to challenge their factual basis. Mr Dodds has also denied the claims made against him.

Mr Robinson said the DUP would not be "sidetracked" by the documentary.

"I have already made a statement, the party has made a statement, I have indicated I don't intend to take part in these kind of recriminations," he said.

The controversial survey that angered Dr Paisley in his final months in office had questioned the friendly relationship the first minister had struck up with Sinn Fein deputy first minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness - a rapport that had seen the leaders dubbed the "chuckle brothers".

Also asked for his view of the programme today, Mr McGuinness said he did not want to get involved in the internal issues of the DUP.

But he added: "Ian Paisley had his own view of me for many decades I had my own view of Ian Paisley for many decades, but I do have to say that whenever we went into government together for that year (2007-08), we surprised everybody.

"It wasn't a show, it wasn't an act - we had, I think, a real friendship and a real understanding of our role in history, our place in history and the need to provide good leadership.

"And I am still friendly with Ian Paisley at this time, we still keep in contact and I want to continue to remember the good bits and remember the history making development that we were involved in."

The deputy first minister continued: "I am proud of the year I spent with Ian Paisley in the office of the first and deputy first minister and I will remember it to my dying day."

After Mr Robinson replaced Dr Paisley he was later beset with his own difficulties when his wife Iris, then DUP MP for Strangford, became embroiled in a political scandal after it was revealed she had an affair with a 19-year-old man.

The fall-out from the episode was one of the factors attributed to Mr Robinson losing his East Belfast Westminster seat in the 2010 general election.

The confidential survey's criticism of Ian Paisley Jnr referred, among other things, to a lobbying scandal that had hit the headlines in the year prior to his father's resignation. Mr Paisley Jnr was ultimately cleared of wrong-doing by the Assembly watchdog.

Dr Paisley described the comments in the survey about his son as "disgraceful".

"They were absolutely disgraceful and they were disgraceful because the man that they put in my position couldn't keep his own seat in Westminster, and my son who followed me had a marvellous victory," he said.

"And for once we are seeing the true nature of the beast - that there was a beast here who was prepared to go forward to the destruction of the party, because losing seats in Northern Ireland is very serious and for East Belfast not to be a unionist seat in the House of Commons is a terrible blow."

Commenting on her son, Baroness Paisley, who also contributed to the documentary, appeared to reference the scandal that consumed Mrs Robinson.

"Ian's name was cleared by the authorities in Stormont, everything that was said against him was proved to be false and he never brought any sleaze," she said.

"His wife didn't do anything wrong, he didn't do anything wrong.

"There was nothing morally wrong with his character or his life. And we know eventually where the sleaze did come from.

"It came in the home of the man who is now leader himself, Peter Robinson, it came from his family, not from the Paisley family."

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