DUP silent on meeting backing Ian Paisley as possible by-election looms
THE DUP was silent last night over whether it endorsed a meeting in support of shamed MP Ian Paisley.
The North Antrim representative remains suspended from the DUP, pending the outcome of an internal investigation into his conduct.
Last month he received an unprecedented 30 sitting days suspension from the House of Commons for failing to declare two luxury family holidays to Sri Lanka, paid for by its government.
Mr Paisley subsequently lobbied on behalf of the south Asian island's regime, writing to then prime minister David Cameron in 2014 urging him not to support a United Nations investigation into human rights abuses.
His suspension has triggered the first recall petition in UK parliamentary history, with three venues across North Antrim open over the coming weeks to allow constituents to register their dissatisfaction with Mr Paisley's conduct.
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If 10 per cent of registered constituents – 7,543 people – sign the petition then Mr Paisley must resign his seat and contest a by-election.
According to one bookie, there's an odds-on chance that the North Antrim MP will be ousted.
BoyleSports is offering odds of 1/3 on the petition reaching the necessary threshold to trigger a by-election.
The bookie's spokesman Lawrence Lyons said: "Looking at the numbers from the last general election, Sinn Féin and SDLP votes amounted to over 10,000 but of course not all of them are guaranteed to come out again.
"However we have to factor in the possibility of Alliance, UUP and TUV voters joining the chorus and the fact that we’re still seeing money despite red hot odds of 1/3, suggests that punters are certain that Paisley’s seat will be at the mercy of the electorate in the near future."
Last night supporters of Mr Paisley from across his constituency were due to hold a meeting to back their MP.
Organiser and DUP councillor John Finlay said the former first minister's son would be among those attending.
In a letter to party activists, Mr Finlay said Mr Paisley had received a "very severe punishment" and that opponents were seeking to unseat him.
"I think we can all agree with the speaker of the house, Mr John Bercow MP, when he said it was 'a regrettable state of affairs'," the letter said.
"I trust also that you will have been saddened by the subsequent torrent of condemnation and abuse our friend has suffered since the issue became public."
Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan called on the DUP leadership to state whether it endorsed last night's meeting.
"Do any DUP members, including Ian Paisley as a suspended member, have the party’s endorsement to attend this event?" the North Antrim representative said.
“Every day that this saga continues, the questions mount for the DUP leadership and they show huge disrespect for the electorate in North Antrim by refusing to answer them.”
The DUP declined to comment.