Northern Ireland news

How North Antrim could oust Ian Paisley: Plans to open by-election petition centres

Ian Paisley failed to declare two family holidays paid for the Sri Lankan government. Picture by PA

UP TO 10 locations in North Antrim would be used as part of a major public process to collect the signatures that could oust Ian Paisley from his Westminster seat.

The north’s chief electoral officer is understood to have made provisional plans for the first recall petition in UK parliamentary history, which will be triggered today if MPs ratify the sanction against the DUP representative recommended by the standards watchdog.

A series of public venues would be made available from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday for six weeks for voters to register their protest against the MP, who must resign if 7,500 signatures are gathered.

A notice about the petition would be posted to every constituent and they can either sign it at one of the centres, request a postal petition or apply to sign by proxy.

Last week the standards committee proposed an unprecedented suspension of 30 sitting days for Mr Paisley because he failed to declare two family holidays paid for the Sri Lankan government and then lobbied on behalf of the controversial regime.

MPs will vote on Tuesday on whether to bar Mr Paisley from the House of Commons in line with the watchdog’s recommendation.

The punishment potentially excludes him from Westminster from the beginning of September until November, when the Conservative Party is likely to rely on the 10 DUP MPs for support in close-run Brexit votes.

If Tuesday’s motion is carried it automatically triggers the ‘recall petition’ process that could cost him his seat.

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Introduced in 2015 in the wake of a series of sleaze scandals, the legislation means that an MP who is jailed or barred from Westminster for more than 10 days must resign their seat if 10 per cent of the registered electorate in their constituency sign a petition.

Mr Paisley, who apologised in the Commons last week, would be entitled to stand again in a by-election.

Virginia McVea can earmark up to 10 venues where the recall petition can be signed

There are just over 75,000 registered voters in North Antrim, meaning around 7,500 signatures would be required to force a poll.

Mr Paisley secured a majority of more than 20,000 in last year’s general election but Sinn Féin alone won almost 8,000 votes and smaller parties totalled more than 10,000 more.

If the sanction imposed by MPs meets the required criteria, Commons speaker John Bercow will write to Virginia McVea, the north’s chief electoral officer, who will automatically begin the recall petition process.

It is understood Ms McVea would publish the North Antrim electoral register first, which will establish who in the constituency is eligible to sign the petition, before naming up to 10 venues where constituents can sign the petition over a six-week period.

The DUP is also considering whether to take disciplinary action against Mr Paisley, although East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said at the weekend he should face no additional sanctions.

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