Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: A little bit of humility would go a long way for brass-necked Ian Paisley

Is it really too much to expect genuine remorse and repentance from the DUP MP, asks Fionola Meredith

It has often been said that Ian Paisley has a brass neck. After his return to Westminster last week, following a 30-day suspension for failing to declare £100,000 in hospitality from the Sri Lankan government, I contend that he more closely resembles a rubber ball - unsquashable, impervious to pressure, lacking in self-awareness and irrepressibly bouncy.

As everyone knows, Mr Paisley's error was a grave one. The House of Commons Standards Committee found he had brought the House into disrepute and had committed serious misconduct.

The extent of the suspension indicated the full gravity of his disgrace: it was the longest issued to an MP in almost 70 years, and the strongest sanction available to Kathryn Stone, the Commissioner for Standards at the House of Commons.

The recall petition which was subsequently triggered by Mr Paisley's ban from Westminster was the very first in UK parliamentary history.

Let's remember that Mr Paisley did not simply fail to declare those luxurious family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

He also lobbied the Prime Minister against a UN investigation into appalling alleged human rights violations, including mass murder, during the Sri Lankan civil war - and all without mentioning he and his family had been lavishly pampered by the Sri Lankans, to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds.

Amnesty International described Mr Paisley's intervention as "a moral disgrace, serving the interests of an abusive regime, not its victims".

Now he's back. You might think that an attitude of quiet humility and reflective repentance would be the most suitable way to return to the parliament on which he had brought dishonour, and to which, in July, he offered an unreserved apology for his actions.

It would be natural, wouldn't it, to feel ashamed and embarrassed in such unparalleled circumstances. To keep your head low, for a while, and humble.

Not a bit of it. Instead, the North Antrim MP bullishly claimed that his comeback "couldn't have been timed better", given the ongoing Brexit brouhaha and crucial upcoming vote.

He also declared: "I have taken what I still consider to be a severe punishment on the chin, and I also think many a smaller man would have crumbled."

Bounce, bounce, bounce, goes the self-styled 'big fella', all the way back to the Commons chamber.

The sense of overweening self-regard, in defiance of the sobering facts, is almost beyond parody.

"Hallelujah" was Mr Paisley's response when the petition of recall to unseat him failed by 444 votes. He declared it a "miracle", and claimed that he was "greatly humbled".

Note the overblown Biblical language - was he implying that the Almighty himself was behind the favourable result?

Mr Paisley went on to illustrate his great humility by bragging on his Twitter biography. He added "90.6% support from recall petition", to his list of electoral achievements, as well as his Freedom of the City of London.

Even after being excluded from Westminster, the bullishness did not appear to diminish by a single iota. If anything, it got stronger.

Mr Paisley said he had "no intention of going quietly into the night", and vowed that if a by-election occurred, he would "seek re-election as I have never run away from an election in my life and don't intend to do so now".

Remarkably, he sounded more like a wronged martyr, bravely standing up against his enemies, than a disgraced MP who had been severely censured by the parliamentary standards commission.

Which leaves me wondering: does Mr Paisley think we all came up the Lagan in a bubble?

Perhaps we should not be surprised. The DUP's notion of political spin is positively stone age, with glaringly obvious facts blatantly ignored or glossed over.

For example, DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused businesses which backed the EU withdrawal deal of being "the puppets of the Northern Ireland Office", then up popped party leader Arlene Foster to say it's actually the media's fault for trying to "drive a wedge" between the DUP and business over Brexit.

Brazen, ain't in it? Brass necks and bouncy balls are the way the DUP rolls.

But instead of crowing about his triumphant return to Westminster, and congratulating himself on not crumbling, as "many a smaller man" would have done, Ian Paisley should take note of this thought.

It's not in the Bible, but it's true nonetheless.

It takes a far greater man to admit openly when he is wrong, to make amends and to act with genuine humility.

Belfast Telegraph

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