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Ian Paisley needs to be held to account

The DUP plainly had no option other than to at least temporarily suspend Ian Paisley last month when he received the unprecedented punishment of a 30-day ban from the House of Commons for blatant breaches of parliamentary rules.

Mr Paisley notoriously failed to declare two luxury family holidays in the space of a matter of months in 2013, running up a bill estimated to exceed £100,000 which was paid by the Sri Lankan government.

He then wrote to the UK prime minister David Cameron the following year urging him to oppose a United Nations inquiry into human rights abuses on the south Asian island, again without acknowledging his close links to the authorities there.

Mr Paisley is still serving the specific penalty imposed at Westminster but the DUP has not clarified a statement issued in July which said he had been suspended by the party `pending further investigation into his conduct.'

The key issue is that Mr Paisley is now facing the first recall petition in UK parliamentary history, which, if it is signed by ten per cent of his constituents before a deadline of September 19, will result in a mandatory North Antrim by-election.

If the DUP wants to firmly disassociate itself from Mr Paisley's behaviour, and send out a signal that it will demand the highest possible standards in public life, it has the obvious option of concluding its disciplinary probe by announcing that he had been expelled from the party.

Instead, no further information has been forthcoming from the DUP about Mr Paisley's status and party activists felt able to openly stage a meeting in his support at Gracehill in Co Antrim on Monday night.

Organiser John Finlay, a DUP councillor in the area, insisted it was not an official party gathering but said he was confident Mr Paisley, who attended the event despite his suspension, would be the DUP candidate in the event of a by-election.

Despite everything which has happened, Mr Finlay is evidently expecting that Mr Paisley will be shortly welcomed back into the ranks of the DUP without facing any sanction which would impact on his parliamentary career.

North Antrim is a seat with an overwhelming DUP majority, and it would be a major surprise if the party did not maintain its grip on a constituency which it has held for almost half a century

However, given the latest developments, it is more important than ever that voters from all traditions should hold Mr Paisley to account, even if his party does not, and offer their backing to the expression of disapproval at the heart of the recall petition.

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