The Bloody Sunday inquiry tried yesterday to jolt the Rev Ian Paisley out of his reluctance to appear before it by ordering him to turn up this morning or face being declared in contempt of court.
The Democratic Unionist Party leader was formally warned by the head of the inquiry, Lord Saville of Newdigate, to appear in Londonderry at 9.30am today or face being reported to the High Court. Lord Saville said the suspicion was that Mr Paisley had given the inquiry "the run-around". Mr Paisley was said last night to be considering his position.
In falling foul of the tribunal, Mr Paisley finds himself in the unlikely company of two journalists who are facing possible prison sentences after refusing to supply the inquiry with the names of soldiers they interviewed for Channel 4.
Lena Ferguson and Alex Thomson have formally refused to comply with the instruction from the tribunal, which is investigating the fatal shootings of 14 civilians by soldiers in 1972.
Mr Paisley's son, Ian Paisley Jnr, said his father was only told last Monday he would have to appear at the tribunal. He said his father "had far more pressing and credible parliamentary duties to attend to". In common with most Unionist politicians, Mr Paisley has a low opinion of the inquiry, which they tend to view as a source of nationalist and republican propaganda.
The DUP leader has given a written statement to the inquiry and takes the view he has nothing to add to it, adding that he has no personal recollection of an issue the inquiry wishes to pursue. This centres on the fact that a local DUP branch originally declared it would mount a counter-demonstration on Bloody Sunday. It then dropped its plans, saying it had been given assurances by the Northern Ireland government that the march would be stopped by force if necessary.
Mr Paisley had been due to appear at the tribunal yesterday but did not show up.
John McBurney, the solicitor who appeared on his behalf, cited "parliamentary duties", saying his client had commitments in the Belfast Assembly, at Westminster and in Europe.
But Lord Saville told Mr McBurney: "We have come to the conclusion that we will certify Dr Paisley for contempt if he does not appear here by 9.30 tomorrow morning."
Mr McBurney said Mr Paisley was willing to attend the inquiry if a suitably flexible date was arranged. He added: "If there are several alternatives, then I would like to hope that at least one of them would be possible."
However, Lord Saville pointed out that confirmation that the DUP leader would not be attending yesterday was only received 12 minutes before the close of business on Friday, at the beginning of a three-day holiday weekend.
He said the tribunal had "bent over backwards" to accommodate Mr Paisley, adding: "On the face of it, it looks as if your client is trying to give us the run-around."