A leading DUP MP has hit out at the “near universal hatred” of his party and compared it to Islamophobia.
Iain Paisley Junior, son of the late First Minister of Northern Ireland, said that the Democratic Unionist Party’s deal with the Tories had sparked a wave of vilification and misrepresentation.
He suggested that if similar criticisms of his party’s stance on homosexuality and abortion had been levelled against Muslims “you wouldn’t have got away with it”.
Paisley said that the DUP-Conservative agreement, which gives Theresa May a Commons majority in return for £1bn for the province, should be celebrated by the whole of the UK.
Speaking at an event for British and Irish politicians held in Central London on Wednesday night, he said other groups would not have tolerated the abuse levelled at their party.
“I’m not asking for sympathy - we got the money, the cheque cashed - [but] we were the recipients of vitriol the like of which would have been considered reprehensible and would not have been directed at any other group,” Paisley said.
“If I had said some of those things about other groups in our society, or if you had said them even about Muslim groups in this city, you wouldn’t have got away with it. You got away with it about us, and I think that is something which needs to be said, but needs to be left there.”
Paisley, who once said he was “repulsed” by homosexuals and said they “harm themselves and harm society”, insisted that his party had been subjected to a “systematic slander” in recent weeks.
“They have this picture of this tired, old, bent-over, humpy old man whose ideas are represented by a cruel snarl upon his face, with his palm outstretched with a cane of wrath and anger and who has recently in the other hand grabbed a bag of money from his friend, Tory, and that has made him even nastier and more oppressive about his neighbour.
“That’s a picture that has been carried in the media in the last few weeks about my party. But that image is a caricature of the Democratic Unionist Party - the largest political party in Northern Ireland and a party that carries considerable weight from a significant region of this kingdom.
“It is an unfair character assassination and it should cease, and it should cease now.”
Paisley said the DUP’s 10 MPs had “kept their heads down” as their leader Arlene Foster struck a confidence and supply deal with May to prop up her minority Government.
However, critics point out the DUP were set to follow the Government whip on a Commons vote on Labour MP Stella Creasy’s amendment on abortion last week - before a Tory rebellion forced ministers to offer cash to Ulster women to get terminations for free on the NHS in England.
Paisley pointed out that the DUP’s tough line on keeping the winter fuel allowance had benefited millions of pensioners across the whole of the UK.
“£1.5 billion ….to make sure that security for our pensioners across the entirety of the United Kingdom is locked in place. Practical things like the winter fuel allowance whether you live in John O’Groats…or Enniskillen,” he said.
“I ask you, how could you object?”