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Suzanne Breen: DUP unlikely to risk ousting Paisley given heavy backing in constituency

By Suzanne Breen

The fate of Ian Paisley now lies in the hands of the seven men and women who make up the DUP officer board.

Arlene Foster yesterday dodged a question on whether the North Antrim MP had her full support and stressed that it was now a matter for party officers.

But Mrs Foster, along with DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, sits on the officer board, which meets every week and effectively runs the DUP.

The pair will play a powerful role in deciding Mr Paisley's future.

The other party officers include Michelle McIlveen, party secretary; treasurer Gregory Campbell; and Simon Hamilton, director of elections.

DUP chairman Maurice Morrow and assistant secretary Diane Dodds also serve on the board.

They are expected to meet next week, and will discuss the House of Commons Standards Committee's report on Mr Paisley. It is expected that a disciplinary panel will then be established.

This will be made up of party members and is likely to include some who have a legal background.

The panel will examine the MP's behaviour in light of party rules. He will be invited to give evidence on his own behalf.

Panel members will listen to his arguments and then make their decision on what, if any, penalty he will face.

The disciplinary action that they will consider will include suspending Mr Paisley from the DUP, removing the party whip from him, imposing a financial penalty, or even expulsion.

Another possible sanction would be barring him from standing as a DUP candidate for a certain period of time. If they opted for that course of action it could have ramifications in the event of a by-election.

It is highly unlikely that the party would expel Mr Paisley given his family pedigree.

Suspending him from the party for a time-limited period would seem to be the most likely outcome in the current circumstances.

The panel is likely to move very cautiously and to take several weeks to reach a conclusion.

The DUP will tread carefully and will follow disciplinary procedures robustly because any decision could potentially be subject to a future legal challenge by Mr Paisley.

At every step of the way, the party will be mindful that the whole affair could end up in court.

The disciplinary panel's recommendation will be made to party officers who will then decide to accept or reject it.

Political considerations will clearly play a major part in what action the DUP chooses to take against its North Antrim representative. If Mr Paisley didn't have such strong personal support in the constituency, the party's top brass would surely want to cut him adrift.

However, the fact that he would be likely run as an independent and retain the seat means the DUP can't afford to go down that route even if some in the party may instinctively want to.

Patience with the North Antrim MP appears to be wearing very thin with some party figures.

His popularity in the constituency is what will likely save him, and guarantee that there will still be a Paisley in the DUP for the foreseeable future.

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