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Suzanne Breen: Make no mistake, DUP's top brass are furious with Ian Paisley

By Suzanne Breen ·

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East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson

He is bold, brash, and until now many people have believed Ian Paisley was destined to enjoy a political longevity that would rival that of his father.

But is the writing on the wall for the son of the DUP founder, who has just been suspended from the House of Commons for the joint longest period of any MP in 70 years?

Make no mistake about it, the DUP top brass are absolutely furious with the North Antrim MP for his major breach of parliamentary rules. There never was much love for him in some quarters, and there is a lot less now.

Mr Paisley is currently suspended from the party but he is still likely to be back as a DUP representative, albeit in a more neutered condition.

What's saving him is the Paisley name and his undisputed popularity with his constituents.

But if anything else emerges about the MP in the media, it could be an altogether different matter.

In its very brief statement yesterday, the DUP said Mr Paisley was being suspended "pending further investigation into his conduct". That insinuates the party wants to look at other political or business interests he might have.

The DUP added that it didn't intend to "make any further comment" during that process.

Yet it knows that won't shut down this story. Sammy Wilson was very much on a solo run when he said Mr Paisley had been punished enough and shouldn't face any sanctions from the party.

Some other MPs are also sympathetic to their colleague, but plenty in the party grassroots outside North Antrim are not.

Mr Paisley denies that the two holidays he took were worth £100,000, and puts the value at around £50,000.

Yet that's two years' income or more for many ordinary families in DUP constituencies.

The party knows from past experience in East Belfast that the image of its politicians enjoying a lifestyle far beyond that of those they represent can be very damaging politically.

Mr Paisley's article in the Ballymena Guardian in which he vowed that he wouldn't be "going quietly into the night" will have done him no favours with the party officers who will decide his fate. It was regarded as the wrong tone to take.

The DUP will be hoping that a recall petition does not receive the 7,500 signatures required to force a by-election. Much will depend on how much work Sinn Fein puts into getting out the nationalist electorate. There is also likely to be some support from other non-DUP voters.

An election, which would be held after Arlene Foster's high-profile appearance before the RHI Inquiry in the autumn, would be a nightmare for the party. It would raise all sorts of difficult questions for its leader. Would she canvass for him, for instance?

Ian Paisley, like his father, is a survivor. He should come out of this on his feet, but it's certainly not over yet.

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East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson