Political news

Handling of Ian Paisley recall petition 'bizarre', Sinn Féin's Philip McGuigan claims

DUP MP Ian Paisley with his supporters. Picture by Pacemaker

A SINN Féin MLA has hit out at the Electoral Office's "bizarre" handling of a petition to recall Ian Paisley.

Hours before the petition closed yesterday afternoon, Philip McGuigan said he was asked to remove a video from social media in which he urged people to vote.

The petition in North Antrim was triggered after DUP MP Ian Paisley received an unprecedented 30-day suspension from the House of Commons for failing to register two luxury family holidays to Sri Lanka which were paid for by the country's government.

Mr McGuigan's video suggested the vote, which had been open for six weeks, was "on a knife-edge".

Electoral rules prohibit the publication of exit polls on the recall petition.

They also prohibit the publication of the names of anyone who has signed it - even if they publicly announce they have done so.

Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea said she telephoned Mr McGuigan after receiving "various complaints about the tweet".

"I highlighted to him the relevant legislation regarding exit polls," she said.

"He was aware that it was a criminal matter - not something for us but for the PSNI.

"I did advise him it would be better if he took it down."

Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan has criticised the Electoral Office's handling of a recall petition against DUP MP Ian Paisley. Picture by Mal McCann

Mr McGuigan did remove the video.

However, he said he did not believe the post made a prediction about the outcome of the vote.

"We all know the reasons why Ian Paisley was suspended from Westminster and the DUP," he said.

"I find it incredible I am being warned about police investigations when I do not believe there was anything in the post that predicted the outcome of the petition. If that is the case, are the bookmakers taking bets or the political pundits offering opinions also going to receive similar calls?

"It's regretful that the Electoral Office did not pay as much attention to ensuring the people of North Antrim were afforded their democratic rights because they clearly did not do enough to facilitate people who wished to sign the petition."

A sign pointing voters to a recall petition at the Joey Dunlop Centre in Ballymoney, Co Antrim. Picture by Mal McCann

He questioned why the Electoral Office opened just three recall centres - in Ballymoney, Ballycastle and Ballymena.

"The lack of an effective public awareness campaign and the restrictive opening hours of the signing centres were also major problems," he said.

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