Under fire Paisley gets support in Ballymena after it appears that he has charged charity £ 6k for first class trip to New York

It was business as usual for Ian Paisley yesterday when he attended a special event at The Braid Center in Ballymena to hand over the freedom of the city to Sir William Wright.

The under-fire MP for North Antrim was silent in the audience because the honor was given to the 94-year-old businessman, Wrightbus's boss, for his services to the economy and the community.

Not once was the last allegation, in which a £ 6,000 expense account to Co-Operation Ireland for a trip to New York last year was mentioned.

Mr. Paisley himself rejected questions with "no comment" when approached, but preferred to focus on the case in question – celebrating a local success story.

He was among friends who supported him after his suspension of the House of Commons during 30 session days last year for not declaring two family holidays paid by the Sri Lankan government in 2013, estimated at about £ 50,000.

They supported him again in December when it turned out that the DUP MP had received a free family vacation to the Maldives in 2016, which he also could not explain.

His speech to the town's dignitaries was related to a man who was talking to an audience of friends. Preaching to the converted, no murmur of a scandal.

He spoke about family, about what the Wright family did for Ballymena, the jobs they have brought to the area, the support the family has given to community projects, about the obvious love & # 39; who had the employees of Wrightbus for the man who employed them.

"They put their trust in the people of Ballymena and the surrounding district and people have not disappointed them," he said. He could easily have talked about the Paisley family.

And while the MP continued to enjoy the free lunch at the Braid Center, it was clear that in the streets of his hometown the cars were circling in defense of their man.

David Gregg told the Belfast Telegraph: "I have known the Paisleys for a long time and they are for many people in North Antrim family, so we will support him.

"Many would like to see the back of him, probably even from his own party. They pushed his father out and he has the Paisley name so will always be a big target. This does not change anything." We are Ballymena people and Ian is our man. "

And he pointed to other politicians who, he says, have insulted him much more.

He said: "I saw how Sinn Fein brought Barry McElduff back into politics after his actions with a Kingsmill blade on his head, which is so much more damaging to me."

Marcus Gregg (57) was also adamant that the support for his MP would never change.

"I will always vote for the big man and that's that," he said.

"The Paisleys have done great things for this area, that's what's important to me."

Heather McCrystal (56) added: "He is as human as the rest of us, would there be a story on the front page if it would be a different politician?

"He may not be his father, but times have changed, we have gone further and accept that Ian Paisley senior was a unique person.

"But we must encourage Ian Junior to continue working for this city and the area.

"Nobody is perfect and in Northern Ireland we can judge people very quickly, but look at his report of good work for this community."

William Reid (73) said: "I have previously lived in Scotland and England and never had an MP so close to the people in his community as Ian Paisley.

"The majority of the Ballymena people will always stay with him."

Mr. Paisley has been a member of parliament since May 2010 and holds the seat of his late father, Lord Bannside, and had a majority of more than 20,000 in the last election.

And it seems that no matter what others throw in the direction of Ian Paisley, he is still as popular as many with his heart in North Antrim.

Belfast Telegraph