Northern Ireland news

Ian Paisley gears up for by-election as MPs vote for 30-day suspension

The DUP will carry out a 'further investigation' into Ian Paisley's conduct. Picture by PA Wire

THE DUP has suspended Ian Paisley while it carries out "further investigation" into the conduct that saw him barred from Westminster for an unprecedented 30 sitting days.

MPs yesterday ratified the standards committee's recommended sanction against the North Antrim MP, effectively suspending him from the House of Commons until November.

He is also expected to lose around £15,000 of his MP's salary while serving out the punishment.

His suspension will formally commence in September when Theresa May's minority government is expected to face more knife-edge votes on Brexit and she will be relying on the support of the DUP.

It has also triggered a 'recall petition' for the first time in UK parliamentary history, meaning the signatures of 10 per cent of his constituents will force him to resign his seat.

The north's chief electoral officer, Virgina McVea, is expected to get the petition process underway in the coming days, making up to 10 venues in the constituency available for a six-week period to enable people to register their protest.

A notice about the petition will be posted out to every constituent and the petition can also be signed by post.

The shamed DUP MP has vowed to defend his seat in the event of a by-election.

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DUP East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said at the weekend that Mr Paisley should not face any additional sanctions from his party.

However, in a statement issued minutes after his suspension was confirmed, the DUP said it took the the matter "very seriously".

"The party officers have decided to suspend Mr Ian Paisley MP from membership of the party pending further investigation into his conduct.

"The party does not intend to make any further comment on these matters during the course of the above outlined process."

Ahead of MPs voting to suspend the former first minister's son, standards committee chairman Sir Kevin Barron said the North Antrim representative was guilty of "serious misconduct and his actions were of a nature to bring the House of Commons into disrepute".

He also said the probe in to his failure to register luxury family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government could have been concluded earlier had Mr Paisley "been more co-operative initially".

Sir Kevin said the DUP MP displayed a "greater sense of urgency" in the latter stages of the investigation.

Speaker of the House John Bercow described the episode as "a regrettable state of affairs".

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said the North Antrim representative's Westminster colleagues had overwhelmingly voted to impose the most serious sanction handed to any MP since 1949.

"When you consider some of the sleaze, corruption and criminal scandals that have engulfed the British parliament during that time," she said.

The Mid Ulster MLA said the Sri Lankan regime, for which Mr Paisley was found to have carried out paid advocacy, was responsible for "mass murder, war crimes and gross human rights abuses".

She said the DUP needed to be clear whether it would endorse Mr Paisley as a candidate in any forthcoming by-election.

TUV leader Jim Allister, a former ally and friend of Mr Paisley's father, said the DUP MP had "reaped what he sowed".

"The biggest losers in this scandalous saga are the Brexit voting people of North Antrim who in upcoming crucial votes will now be left without a voice or a vote, because of the selfish antics of Mr Paisley," he said.

Patrick Corrigan, head of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland, said the victims were those killed in Sri Lanka.

"Mr Paisley saw fit to lobby the prime minister against a UN investigation into gross human rights violations, including the mass killing of civilians at the end of the Sri Lankan war, for which no adequate investigation has ever been carried out," he said.

In the aftermath of last week's standards committee report, the North Antrim MP offered an unreserved apology to the House of Commons.

The report found he had been lobbying on behalf of the Sri Lankan regime within a year of enjoying undeclared family holidays to the country in 2013.

The report said the cost of the hospitality may have been "significantly more" than Mr Paisley's £50,000 estimate, with the holidays including business-class air travel, accommodation at first-class hotels and more for him and his wider family.

The trips included meeting Sri Lankan government figures.

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