So Ian Paisley is suspended for thirty sitting days in Westminster for failing to declare hospitality from the Sri Lankan government. Estimates of the value of two undeclared holidays vary from £50,000 (his own) to £100,000 in 2013.
The suspension means that the government is one vote down until November. The report from the House of Commons Committee on Standards noted:
In view of the seriousness of this matter, we recommend that Mr Paisley be suspended from the service of the House for a period of 30 sitting days starting on 4 September 2018.
While he has disputed the Daily Telegraph’s claim that the value was £100,000, by his own calculation it amounted to over £50,000 — and may have been significantly more than that. This massively exceeded the threshold for registration, which at that time was £660.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the reason why the third visit was registered and the two earlier ones were not, was that Mr Paisley was conscious of the potential embarrassment that would be caused to him were it to become publicly known that he had accepted very expensive hospitality, for himself and his family, from a foreign government accused of serious human rights violations. [Emphasis added]
The Belfast Telegraph reports:
Mr Paisley and his family made two visits to Sri Lanka in March/April 2013 and July 2013. He made a further visit to Sri Lanka in November 2013 without his family, but also paid for by the Sri Lankan government, to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). This third solo visit was registered with Parliament, but the first two were not.
Mr Paisley is just the third MP since 1947 to be suspended for a month. The size of the expenses is a clue to the harshness of the punishment, but failure to mention the holidays in a direct approach to the PM of 19 March 2014 was likely decisive.
He faces calls to resign from Sinn Fein, whilst the SDLP’s Colin McGrath has called for a recall petition, a new measure brought in in 2016 by which if 10% of constituents sign a petition a byelection is called.
His letter was to lobby the PM to move against supporting a UN resolution taking the Sri Lanka Government to task for not investigating alleged war crimes during the violent suppression of the Tamil Tigers five years previously.
He clearly failed to convince the then PM, David Cameron.
Meanwhile, a DUP spokesman told the press: “The party has noted the House of Commons Standards Committee’s report on Ian Paisley MP. These matters will now be considered by the party officers.”
Good to see a parliamentary body defend its reputation by enforcing its rules on members. But it is shameful to reflect that had Mr Paisley been a member of the Stormont Assembly, his punishment would likely have been devolved to his party.
And as we know from our own recent history, that is by and large no punishment at all.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty