Northern Ireland news

Ian Paisley bemoans 'too long' recall petition

Ian Paisley said the North Antrim recall petition triggered by his suspension from Westminster lasted too long

IAN Paisley believes the recall petition triggered by his suspension from Westminster lasted too long and that the threshold for signatures that would have forced his resignation was not high enough.

The DUP MP, who was handed an unprecedented 30-sitting day suspension from the House of Commons in July, also argues that the process for collecting signatures for the petition was "not transparent".

Mr Paisley makes his observations on the workings of the first recall petition in Westminster's history in a letter to chief electoral officer Virginia McVea, which has been obtained by The Irish News.

The petition was opened on August 8 at three venues in North Antrim after the Westminster standards watchdog found the DUP MP had failed to declare two luxury holidays to Sri Lanka, paid for by its government.

He also lobbied on behalf of the south Asian island's regime, urging the then prime minister David Cameron not to support a UN probe into alleged Sri Lankan human rights abuses.

Mr Paisley survived the recall petition after it fell 444 signatures short of the 7,543 threshold – 10 per cent of the constituency's registered electorate – required to unseat him.

In the letter to Ms McVea, he describes the six-week period that the petition was open as a "significantly long period of time".

"I take the view after being subject to a petition that a long period of petitioning is counterproductive, as momentum is lost for the entire event," he wrote on September 20, the day after the petition had closed.

"Being the subject of a petition and getting the matter dealt with promptly and a result achieved expeditiously is I believe in the public interest as well as the personal interests and wellbeing of all those involved in the process and I would certainly articulate a need to change that part of the legislation going forward."

Mr Paisley suggests a "petition day" as an alternative, arguing it "would be a much more accurate way of trying to achieve the result".

He also claims the "verification of petitioners is something which disturbed me" during the process.

Insisting he is not "casting any aspiration (sic)" on those overseeing the petition, the North Antrim MP says: "The process does take place behind closed doors and that I believe is not transparent in this day and age for a process that should allow some access to the subject of the petition to see that the process is being carried out fairly on their behalf and secondly for those who are campaigning on either side see that the process is fair."

Mr Paisley describes the 10 per cent threshold that would have forced a by-election as "far too small".

Noting his surprise that the required figure was not reached, he argues that the threshold as it stands "effectively places the recall power into one party possibly the party that always come second in a general election".

"A higher target would create a much fairer system of making parties that are opposed to the MP work together for what they perceive is the common good as opposed to party political good," he writes.

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