Sri Lankan blood money buys influence at Westminster
Most families have to scrimp and save for a year to afford a well-earned holiday in the sun. But not the Paisleys, who in 2013 had not one but two trips to Sri Lanka involving seven helicopter rides and stays at 5-star hotels. The two holidays cost an obscene £100,000.
Ian Paisley Junior has now been disciplined and faces the possibility of a bye-election if 10% of the North Antrim electorate sign a petition for his recall. This is not because he went on the junkets – such lavish trips are relatively common for the political establishment in Northern Ireland. For example, this year, a trip to Cannes in South of France organised by the Belfast City Council, involving a Sinn Féin and UUP councillor, cost £60,000. Ian Paisley Junior is being discipline because he didn’t declare the holiday and subsequently lobbied at Westminster on behalf of the Sri Lankan government.
What makes these visits particularly obscene is that they happened in the aftermath of a genocidal campaign in which the Sri Lankan army brutally killed up to 70,000 mainly Tamil-speaking civilians in the last weeks of the civil war in 2009. They did this by confining the Tamil population to highly concentrated areas – in reality, open air prisons – and then bombarding them. At the time of Paisley’s visits, thousands of Tamils remained (and remain) missing and thousands of mostly young Tamils were in jail.
The British government and many other governments were complicit in that slaughter and continued to support the brutal Rajapaksa regime. In the year of Paisley’s visit, the UK approved export licences worth £3 million for the purchase of military items. For years, the British government played a role in training prominent figures in “counter-insurgency” in the Sri Lankan military, sometimes involving prominent figures in the RUC Special Branch.
Despite their complicity, the Cameron government came under pressure to be seen to address the war crimes in Sri Lanka. This was the result of a massive campaign of the Tamil diaspora in Britain alongside human right groups, trade unionists and journalists. In particular, the exposing of what happened in the Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields played a vital role.
It was in this context that Paisley’s holidays took place and that he lobbied the government to oppose sanctions against the Sri Lankan government. At the same time as Ian Junior was being treated to lavish holidays, the same government repeatedly denied access to Sri Lanka for human rights observers, including Socialist Party MEP (now TD) Paul Murphy.
Build an alternative to corruption & sectarianism
The DUP have been rocked with one corruption scandal after another, from Red Sky to NAMA and RHI. Paisley Junior himself is no stranger to financial scandals. He had to resign from his position as a junior minister in the Stormont Executive after he was caught lobbying for Seymour Sweeney, a property developer and DUP member, to build a local visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway.
If the DUP and other politicians seem like they are Teflon and that nothing sticks when it comes to these scandals, it is because sectarian politics gives them a get-out-of-jail-free card. For example, the RHI scandal exposed a massive scheme which benefited the rich at the expense of the rest of us. However, the election that followed the collapse of the institutions was dubbed the “the mother of all sectarian head-counts.” What was missing was a left political alternative that could win support in both Protestant and Catholic communities. In the absence of an alternative, the election was reduced to the question of whether the DUP or Sinn Féin would emerge as the largest party.
In order to take on the corruption at the heart of our establishment, a working-class alternative must be built. Such a party would challenge the injustice of Paisley getting away with this while at the same time a chronically-ill grandmother is jailed for not paying TV licence. It would organise to unite working-class people in common struggle and find solutions to the issues that divide people. It would also stand in solidarity workers and poor of the world, not with war criminals like Rajapaksa.
By Kevin Henry