Opinion

Ian Paisley's cowardly comments and the abuse of parliamentary privilege

The Irish News view: Truth and justice demands that families should have legal representation

DUP MP Ian Paisley's use of parliamentary privilege to criticise a Belfast solicitor has been branded "cowardly" by Eugene Reavey, who was the victim of an abuse of parliamentary privilege by Ian Paisley Snr
DUP MP Ian Paisley's use of parliamentary privilege to criticise a Belfast solicitor has been branded "cowardly" by Eugene Reavey, who was the victim of an abuse of parliamentary privilege by Ian Paisley Snr DUP MP Ian Paisley's use of parliamentary privilege to criticise a Belfast solicitor has been branded "cowardly" by Eugene Reavey, who was the victim of an abuse of parliamentary privilege by Ian Paisley Snr

Eugene Reavey has undoubtedly got it right by condemning DUP MP Ian Paisley Jnr's "cowardly comments" and his pathetic use of parliamentary privilege to criticise a solicitor involved in a Troubles legacy case.

During a debate on the British government's controversial legacy legislation, Mr Paisley talked about a "shameful snake-oil salesman" who was taking "vindictive" legal action against a former RUC officer.

The remarks referred to Gavin Booth, a partner in Belfast-based Phoenix Law. His clients include Mr Reavey as well as the family of Colum Marks, an IRA man who was shot dead in disputed circumstances in Downpatrick in 1991.

Mr Booth says he is seeking to have Mr Paisley's dangerous comments corrected in the House of Commons record.

But Mr Paisley himself needs to apologise for his outrageous slurs. It would also be helpful if DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson clarified the party's position on the rights of families to engage legal representation.

Mr Reavey is uniquely well placed to offer an informed view of the abuse of parliamentary privilege. The convention exempts MPs from civil or criminal liability for actions or statements made in the course of their legislative duties during parliamentary proceedings. This includes comments that would be defamatory if said elsewhere.

Read more:Eugene Reavey calls on Ian Paisley to apologise for 'cowardly' solicitor slur

Read more:Ian Paisley criticised for using parliamentary privilege to label solicitor 'shameful snake-oil salesman'

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In 1999 Mr Reavey was named in the House of Commons by the late Ian Paisley, the father of the current North Antrim MP, as being responsible for the 1976 Kingsmill massacre, an appalling attack in which 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead.

As the then RUC chief constable Ronnie Flanagan confirmed, Mr Paisley's claim was entirely wrong. Yet he refused to apologise to Mr Reavey. It wasn't until 2020 and a debate sponsored by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood that the parliamentary record was officially corrected to confirm Mr Reavey's innocence.

Adding to the utter crassness of the senior Mr Paisley's baseless accusation was the fact that two of Mr Reavey's brothers were shot dead by loyalists at their Whitecross home the day before Kingsmill killings; a third brother died several weeks later from his injuries.

It is hard to disagree with Mr Reavey when he says Mr Paisley has "failed to learn the lessons of his father's mistakes".

As with a great many Troubles cases, there are unanswered questions around the circumstances of Mr Marks's death. Families should be allowed to pursue all available legal avenues in pursuit of truth and justice – this is a central reason that the government's legacy legislation has provoked such universal opposition.

Solicitors are key to this process and should not be attacked for doing their jobs.