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Northern Ireland news

Ian Paisley looks to 'the prophet Isaiah' as he eats humble pie in House of Commons

Ian Knox cartoon on July 20 2018

"So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

Isaiah 55:11 was not the Bible quote chosen by DUP MP Ian Paisley to conclude his statement to the House of Commons yesterday, but it might sum up the hopes he had for it.

It was the speech of his life, the speech that may define not just his future as an MP, but his political legacy, and he put everything he had into it.

The son of one of the most extraordinary orators ever produced by Northern Ireland struck a less strident tone than his fire and brimstone preacher father in his heyday.

With the prospect of a 30-day suspension from the House hanging over him and the possible by-election that could trigger, contrition was the only option open, and contrition he gave.

Gone was the swaggering bombast voters in the north have often come to associate with DUP politicians.

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In 2013, Mr Paisley was enjoying tens of thousands of pounds worth of hospitality from the Sri Lankan government.

Yesterday, the only dish on the menu was humble pie and it is small wonder that the North Antrim MP appeared to choke at times during the public eating of it.

He rose to his feet "with profound regret and deep personal embarrassment" after being called to make his `personal statement' to his honourable colleagues.

Just four DUP members, Jim Shannon, Paul Girvan, Sammy Wilson and Emma Little-Pengelly, joined Ian Paisley on the green benches

Just four party colleagues, Jim Shannon, Paul Girvan, Sammy Wilson and Emma Little-Pengelly, joined him on the green benches.

Mr Paisley contextualised the events of five years ago as being "in my first parliament", albeit with more than a decade's experience of the north's legislative assembly behind him.

He had "no ulterior motive for that genuine mistake" of not declaring two overseas trips hosted by the controversial regime, but now recognises "how serious a mistake it was" and was delivering his second "unreserved apology... without qualification" to the House and to DUP colleagues.

"I say sorry and apologise for the failings that were identified in the Standards Committee report," he said, before going on to express disappointment that "I was not able to persuade members of the committee of the weight of my arguments on some of the major matters of mitigation".

"However, I accept the report, but I do so regret its sanctions."

This was a politician who clearly believes that all is not yet quite lost, pointing colleagues towards the possibility of a reprieve from the full weight of the recommended penalty.

"I understand that subject to the decision of this house, I may from September be subject to a suspension lasting 30 days," he said.

His commanding voice broke a little over those last words and a hard swallow was needed before he continued to read from his speech, his voice trembling again at times.

"I take my duties, Mr Speaker, as a member of parliament seriously. I believe I conduct myself with colleagues with integrity, with openness, and that is why I have such remorse about the matter as I believe it goes against the grain of who I am - especially how it is portrayed."

 Ian Paisley apologising to the House of Commons

The longest pause, as he appeared to battle for composure, came before his appeal directly to the voters who could be called upon to deliver their judgment on him is a few months' time.

"It is to my constitutents, who have sent me here since 2010, that I make the profoundest of all apologies.

"They have honoured me with unwavering support to be their voice and I hope they will continue to have that confidence in me in the future."

Then came a bid for mercy: "We all in this chamber know that public life, if you make mistakes, they are amplified. And rightly so. That's the nature of the job all of us do and all of us understand that.

"But I believe in a politics and I believe in politicians that can admit human frailty, that can apologise, can mean it and can move on - because that's what real life is all about.

"It's often said it's how we respond to these challenges in our lives that defines who and what we are, and defines our character and demonstrates to us where the true source of our personal strength rests.

"The eighth-century prophet Isaiah said: 'You were angry with me, that anger has turned away, you comfort me.'

"I hope to learn that lesson."

Afterwards, the Speaker John Bercow thanked Mr Paisley for "the sincerity with which the whole house I'm sure will accept, that he has said it".

He now waits to see if his words do indeed achieve their purpose.

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