Opinion

ANALYSIS: Can the DUP tolerate Ian Paisley's cocksure antics indefinitely?

Ian Paisley apologises to his constituents in Westminster

THERE'S been plenty of outrage and criticism directed at Ian Paisley since the most recent revelations about his overseas adventures.

It's almost a year since the DUP MP tearfully delivered the "profoundest of all apologies" to his constituents after the Westminster standards watchdog found he had failed to register two luxury holidays in Sri Lanka paid for by its government before performing "paid advocacy" on behalf of the regime.

In addition to an unprecedented 30-sitting day suspension, the sanctions imposed by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards included triggering the first recall petition in Westminster's history, an opportunity for Mr Paisley's constituents to force a by-election if ten per cent of the registered electorate signed at one of three centres across North Antrim.

After six weeks, however, the number of signatories fell 435 short of the required 7,543.

Mr Paisley described the outcome as a "miracle", while others pointed to the limited number of venues available for constituents to sign the petition, a figure which contrasted with the ten centres opened in Peterborough earlier this year when Labour MP Fiona Onasanya faced the same process.

Yet it is apparent from the result of the recall petition that the DUP MP had the support, albeit tacit, of a majority of his constituents. Since then, however, there have been further revelations about Mr Paisley's conduct and his overseas holidays.

Last December, BBC Spotlight revealed the North Antrim MP and his family had enjoyed a luxury holiday in the Maldives in 2016, paid for in part by someone Mr Paisley described only as a friend. The holiday had not been declared on the MP's register of interests.

In this week's follow-up programme it is claimed that the friend was Dr Mohamed Shainee, who at the time of the Paisleys' visit was the Maldives Fisheries and Agriculture Minister. The programme also revealed a second family holiday taken in 2014, which again the DUP MP had not declared.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards declines to say whether or not it is investigating an MP, but given Mr Paisley's previous conduct and subsequent complaints on the back of the more recent revelations, we can assume that at the very least the watchdog has cast an eye over the two BBC Spotlight programmes.

It is very possible that commissioner Kathryn Stone is already conducting a second investigation and, if it is found the North Antrim MP's adherence to parliamentary rules have fallen short, he could again face a long suspension and a second, unprecedented recall petition.

If that is the case, more venues may be made available for signing the petition across his constituency and a necessary threshold may be reached, yet in all likelihood a by-election in North Antrim would see Ian Paisley returned.

There are several reasons for his durability, ranging from his father's legacy to a perception among his most loyal constituents that their MP is being victimised by the establishment. Like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, Ian Óg jnr appears unassailable; his personal reputation protected by popular regard for his political ideology.

However, while the Paisleyites of North Antrim may back their man through thick and thin, there are those within the DUP who will be less taken by his antics and the way his cocksure attitude reflects on the party. It's clear that to some degree Ian Paisley is a maverick within the DUP, taking solo runs and appearing to operate outside the control of party headquarters.

It's a strained but symbiotic relationship that will prevail until one side runs out of patience with the other. There is little doubt that the latest revelations move us closer towards breaking point.

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