Monday, 18 February 2008

Paisley Junior's resignation and Dromore shows that actions eventually have consequences

Ian Paisley Junior has finally fallen on his own sword, hastened by his own party colleagues and with a distinct lack of good grace. He may not be the first politician to unwisely entwine his private affairs and public life and I’m sure he will not be the last, but the sheer volume of evidence suggesting Junior was conducting his duties partly with regard to self-interest has finally caused him to be adjudged a liability to the DUP. In the wake of their defeat in the Dromore by-election the party wished to be seen to be doing something decisive and Paisley is the scapegoat.

With a lawyer’s eye for a loophole Paisley Junior has been conducting his affairs within the letter of the law, but blatantly without the spirit. His position as a public servant, who is supposed to command a degree of trust was becoming untenable. That his father was implicated in the latest controversy, over rent payments claimed for the pair’s Ballymena constituency office, threatened to bring the whiff of sleaze right to the door of the party’s leader.

But despite the action that Paisley Junior has eventually taken, the abiding sense left with the electorate is that he only resigned reluctantly and only because he was forced to. His father’s protestations in the Assembly and his own rental claims have linked him intrinsically to a similar attitude. Ian Paisley Junior and his father are more aggrieved that their grubby dealings have been exposed to the public gaze than they are ashamed that such things happened in the first place.

I always understood honesty to be a paramount tenet of evangelical Christianity, and what is more I was given to believe that this was a matter of transparent honesty rather than merely sticking to the letter of the law. Given that both Paisleys cite such evangelical beliefs as central to their personal and political ethos, to find that they have financial arrangements that are less than scrupulous and which they would have been reticent about publicising raises again the spectre of rank hypocrisy. The fact that Paisley Senior still employs his son, an MLA and until today a junior minister, as a Westminster researcher, is a blatant example. Could either man truly have believed that this was an honest, defensible use of public money?

Dromore may have given the DUP a wake-up call that their actions do have consequences and that they cannot simply say one thing and do another without this eventually having an affect on the electorate’s perception of their honesty. The Paisley family are discovering through this affair that they cannot simply do what they want when they are a part of a government which is supposedly accountable to an electorate and which is funded from the public purse. Perhaps the most profound consequences of the complacency and hypocrisy within the DUP and endemic in its ‘first family’ are yet to emerge.

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