Saville tribunal warns Paisley to attend or face proceedings

 

BLOODY SUNDAY INQUIRY: The Saville tribunal yesterday issued an ultimatum to the Rev Ian Paisley to attend the inquiry as a witness by 9.30 a.m. this morning or be certified to the High Court for contempt.

The possible sanctions include imprisonment.The inquiry heard that the DUP leader has failed to comply with at least four witness summonses, the earliest dating back to September last year, and the chairman, Lord Saville, said it seemed he was "trying to give us the run around".

A solicitor for Dr Paisley told the tribunal that the DUP leader was unable to attend previously due to parliamentary duties, but admitted that "it is virtually impossible to say what availability he has outside of parliamentary [duties]". Mr John McBurney of McBurney and Co, said Dr Paisley felt he must give priority to his parliamentary duties in Westminster, Strasbourg and Stormont.

He had answered a series of written questions posed by the inquiry's legal team and believed it was unnecessary for him to give oral evidence. Nevertheless, he was prepared to give oral evidence "if it is considered by the inquiry that he must do so". His only proviso was that he would like "some flexibility of approach" in terms of being able to rearrange any suggested date if parliamentary responsibilities made that necessary. Tribunal member, Mr John Toohey, said it appeared that even if the tribunal offered three alternative dates, none might be acceptable in the end because it could be informed at short notice that parliamentary duties precluded Dr Paisley's attendance.

Mr Christopher Clarke QC, counsel to the tribunal, pointed out that it had tried to accommodate Dr Paisley and had repeatedly written to his solicitors seeking to discuss suitable dates. The latest subpoena, signed on March 25th , could not be served until April 29th.

It would be most unfortunate, Mr Clarke added, if the matter went off again "upon the basis of a rather vague understanding that Dr Paisley will come in the end \ in circumstances where he declines to instruct his solicitor to accept service and in which one has to go through a very cumbersome process of a subpoena with all the attendant difficulties which one would hope not to have to do in the case of a member of the Assembly of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom parliament".

Counsel noted that Mr Ian Paisley jnr had been quoted as saying yesterday morning that: "The credibility of the tribunal is now in tatters and he would not want to be part of that.

"He will not be wasting his time in Londonderry today, he has far more pressing parliamentary duties."

That might explain why Dr Paisley had been less than co-operative in fixing a time, "and why it is no longer tolerable for matters to limp on in the manner that I have described," said counsel.

Lord Saville told Mr McBurney that his client was at that moment, on the face of it, in breach of a subpoena to appear, and this was "a fairly serious matter".

He asked what parliamentary duties Dr Paisley had "tomorrow morning at 9.30". This question was echoed by tribunal member, Mr William Hoyt, but Mr McBurney said "it is my understanding that he has difficulties through the course of this week, but again I need to speak to him directly".

Lord Saville said that the tribunal staff had been "bending over backwards" to try to accommodate Dr Paisley.

After an adjournment, the chairman said the tribunal had considered whether or not to give another substantial period of time for Dr Paisley to appear, but had concluded that "we will certify Dr Paisley for contempt if he does not appear here by 9.30 tomorrow morning".