Ian Paisley should not be punished further for Sri Lankan trips, says Sammy Wilson
Party colleague says MP has apologised and acknowledged he had done wrong
DUP MP Ian Paisley apologises to the House of Commons in London for failing to register two family holidays funded by the Sri Lankan government, which he previously estimated was worth £50,000. Photograph: PA Wire
DUP MP Sammy Wilson has said there should be no additional sanctions on his colleague Ian Paisley.
Mr Paisley, MP for North Antrim, made an emotional statement to the House of Commons last week, apologising for his failure to declare two luxury holidays that were paid for by the Sri Lankan government.
A parliamentary watchdog has said he should be suspended for 30 sitting days because he failed to declare the holidays, which were worth more than £50,000.
Members who are suspended from the Commons for more than 10 days are open to a recall petition. A by-election would be triggered if 10 per cent of the electorate in Mr Paisley’s North Antrim constituency sign that petition.
The DUP props up British prime minister Theresa May’s government in Westminster.
Mr Wilson, who represents East Antrim, said: “As far as I am concerned Ian Paisley has been punished very severely by the House of Commons.
“He has admitted he did wrong and he has apologised to the party, to parliament and to his constituents. I don’t believe there should be any additional sanctions imposed on him.
“I believe he has admitted he was wrong. He didn’t try to hide it. He has stood up and publicly apologised and he has been punished very severely and I think that should be the end of the matter.”
Mr Wilson told the BBC Sunday Politics programme Mr Paisley should be the DUP candidate in any possible byelection in the constituency.
“Ian Paisley, I can tell you, I have worked with Ian Paisley in the House of Commons, he is a great MP. The reason why he has a massive majority is because people in his constituency know he works hard for them.
“I watch him in the House of Commons, he is a diligent MP, I think he deserves to be a candidate.”
Sinn Féin South Down MP Chris Hazzard said what happens next will be a test of DUP leadership. “They should be requesting the resignation of Ian Paisley,” he said. “It is as simple as that.”
Meanwhile, senior DUP personnel met on Saturday to discuss the political future of North Antrim MP Ian Paisley.
The party did not reveal the outcome of the meeting but said it may issue a statement on the matter early next week.
Another DUP MP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC on Saturday that his party was not going to take “a lynch mob approach”.
Speaking on the Today programme, Sir Jeffrey said Mr Paisley’s behaviour had been unacceptable.
However, he added: “Ian is entitled to have his case heard, he is entitled to fairness.
“We are a democratic party - the clue is in our name - and this matter has been referred to our party officers.
“They will consider the report prepared by the standards committee, they will consider what has happened and they will come to a decision.”
Sir Jeffrey said that Mr Paisley had apologised and acknowledged that what he had done was unacceptable.
In Belfast on Friday, Mrs May sidestepped questions about the impact the Commons suspension of Mr Paisley would have on future legislative Brexit battles she will face.
But she said the confidence and supply agreement with the DUP had allowed the Government to deliver “key decisions”. Mrs May said it was a “matter for Parliament” how it dealt with breaches of its rules.
Mr Paisley’s trips also included meeting with Sri Lankan governmental figures. The threshold for registering such hospitality in 2013 was around £660. He subsequently wrote a letter to the prime minister arguing on behalf of the Sri Lankan government. Mr Paisley has faced calls to resign his seat and there is a prospect of a by-election as a consequence of the sanction.
At times struggling to maintain his composure, Mr Paisley apologised to the House, to his colleagues in the DUP and to his constituents.
“I take my duties as a Member of Parliament seriously. I believe that I conduct myself with colleagues with integrity and openness, which is why I have such remorse about the matter, as I believe it goes against the grain of who I am, especially how it is portrayed,” he said.
“It is to my constituents, who have sent me here since 2010, that I make the profoundest of all apologies. They have honoured me with unwavering support to be their voice and I hope that they will continue to have that confidence in me in the future.”
When the Daily Telegraph broke the story of Mr Paisley’s holidays in Sri Lanka, where he was accompanied by his family, he initially denied the reports and threatened to sue the newspaper.
The holidays included business-class air travel, accommodation at first-class hotels, helicopter trips and visits to tourist attractions for Mr Paisley and his family.
Mr Paisley said that mistakes made by those in public life were amplified and that they ought to be.
“That is the nature of the job that all of us do and all of us understand that. However, I believe in a politics and in politicians who can admit to human frailty, who can apologise, mean it, and move on, because that is what real life is all about,” he said.
“It is often said that it is how we respond to these challenges in our lives that defines who and what we are, and defines our character and demonstrates to us where the true source of our personal strength rests. The 8th-century prophet Isaiah said, ‘You were angry with me, that anger has turned away, you comfort me.’ I hope to learn that lesson.”
The Commons Standards Committee on Wednesday outlined the sanction for Mr Paisley, son of late DUP founder the Rev Ian Paisley, saying he had committed “serious misconduct” and his actions “were of a nature to bring the House of Commons into disrepute”.
Mr Paisley’s potential suspension would start in September if MPs approve it. - Additional reporting PA