Northern Ireland news

Ian Paisley to face fellow MPs today as 30-day suspension looms

Ian Paisley wrote to David Cameron lobbying against support for a UN resolution on Sri Lanka. Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker

A contrite Ian Paisley will face his fellow MPs today following the Westminster watchdog's imposition of an unprecedented 30-day suspension for his failure to register two family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

Details of the two luxury trips to the south Asian island first emerged in September 2017 when the North Antrim MP dismissed them as being "devoid of fact or logic".

However, following an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, the former first minster's son now faces the prospect of being unseated by a constituents' petition after he breached the rules on how MPs register financial interests.

Under legislation introduced in 2016, MPs facing a ban of more than ten days can lose their seat if 10 per cent of the eligible electorate in their constituency sign a petition.

It is understood Mr Paisley would contest any by-election triggered by the Recall Petition.

The original Daily Telegraph report put the cost of the holidays at £100,000 but Mr Paisley initially claimed that value was only 20 percent of that.

In her report, commissioner Kathryn Hudson said the cost of the two trips – which included business-class air travel, luxury accommodation, helicopter trips and visits to tourist attractions for the North Antrim MP and his family – may have been "significantly more" than Mr Paisley's estimate final estimate in excess of £50,000.

The commissioner also censured Mr Paisley for what is termed paid advocacy after he wrote to then prime minister David Cameron in March 2014 lobbying against support for a UN resolution on Sri Lanka.

The North Antrim MP, who resigned as a Stormont junior minister in 2008 following allegations that he lobbied on behalf of a developer, may also face sanctions from within the DUP. The party said last night it was considering the findings of yesterday's report.

Mr Paisley had already apologised for what he termed his "unintentional failure" to register the hospitality, while his solicitor Paul Tweed yesterday issued statement saying that while his client accepted the Westminster watchdog's ruling, he continued "to take issue with the sensationalised report in the Daily Telegraph".

If rubber stamped by parliament, the 30-day suspension imposed on Mr Paisley will begin on September 4 and means the Tories will be shorn of one of the 10 DUP MPs propping up Theresa May's minority government during a period that could see a number of crucial Brexit votes at Westminster.

Sinn Féin last night called for the under-pressure MP to resign immediately, urging the DUP to force his hand if he refused to quit.

Foyle MP Elisha McCallion said: "This is an issue of integrity in government and in public office."

She said that if Mr Paisley or his party failed to "do the right thing" then it was legitimate for his constituents to force a by-election.

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said the North Antrim MP's conduct made his position untenable.

"This DUP are absolutely shameless and a law unto themselves when it comes to the expenditure of public money – first RHI and now this," he said.

Alliance's Paula Bradshaw called on Mr Paisley to "consider his position", while Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said he would wait see "what action is taken" by the DUP.

TUV leader Jim Allister described accused his former party colleague of "serious and shameful" breaches of Westmnister's code of conduct.

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