Northern Ireland news

Anger as just three venues to be opened for Ian Paisley petition

Ian Paisley with DUP leader Arlene Foster at a party manifesto launch in Antrim last year. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

THE Electoral Office is facing criticism for deciding to open only three venues where voters in North Antrim can sign a petition to oust Ian Paisley.

The recall petition – the first in UK parliamentary history – will launch on Wednesday to decide whether the suspended DUP MP must resign his seat and force a by-election.

Legislation allows for up to 10 locations in the constituency where the six-week petition can be signed.

However, the Electoral Office has announced only three venues.

Suspended DUP MP Ian Paisley

These are the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre in Ballymoney, the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena, and Sheskburn House Recreation Centre in Ballycastle.

The petition, which will run from August 8 to September 19, will be available for signing on weekdays from 9am to 5pm, as well as Thursday September 6 and 13 until 9pm.

Only registered voters are eligible. They can also apply to sign by post or proxy with applications available via eoni.org.uk.

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Last month Mr Paisley received an unprecedented suspension of 30 sitting days from the House of Commons and was also suspended from his party after failing to declare two luxury family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

Legislation introduced in 2016 means any MP jailed or suspended for more than 10 days can be ousted if 10 per cent of their electorate sign a petition.

A total of 75,478 people are registered to vote in North Antrim – meaning 7,547 signatures will trigger a by-election.

North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan

Sinn Féin North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan described the decision to open only three venues as "extremely disappointing" and "simply not good enough".

"It greatly reduces people's ability to reject the disgraceful behaviour of Ian Paisley in accepting lavish family holidays from the Sri Lankan government before lobbying against a UN investigation into war crimes and human rights abuses," he said.

"I would urge the Electoral Commission to provide more centres and more flexible opening times to ensure that the democratic process is not subverted."

The SDLP also said the Electoral Office "should be maximising their reach by offering all 10 locations".

"North Antrim is one of the largest parliamentary constituencies in the north. Therefore, for individuals living in the rural areas of North Antrim or for those who don't own a car, we should be providing them with every opportunity to sign the recall petition as close to their home as possible," a spokeswoman said.

"By only having three locations active, we are preventing people from exercising their democratic right."

UUP leader Robin Swann has also been critical of the electoral office's decision and confirmed that he will be signing the recall petition.

"As a North Antrim constituent I will be signing the petition as I believe the findings of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards are so serious and go to such an extent that the only option is for a by-election to be called."

Alliance North Antrim representative Patricia O’Lynn said the party would campaign for people to sign the petition.

“It is disappointing only three venues will be available and during working hours. However, constituents will be able to apply for the postal option and I encourage them to do so," she said.

It emerged yesterday that Mr Paisley's designation on the British parliament website has been changed to 'independent', although a parliamentary spokeswoman said this is normal procedure when an MP is suspended from their party.

The Electoral Office has been contacted for comment.

Ian Knox cartoon July 25 2018: If 10% of North Antrim constituents on the electoral register sign a recall petition, Ian Paisley will have to fight a by-election

 

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