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First ever recall petition launched as Ian Paisley faces uncertain future

By Suzanne Breen

A petition which could unseat North Antrim MP Ian Paisley opened in three locations across the constituency yesterday.

The first ever recall petition in British parliamentary history allows voters to have their say on their MP.

Mr Paisley has received a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons for failing to declare two luxury holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

He could become the first MP to lose his seat under legislation introduced by the last government following the Westminster expenses scandal.

If 7,543 people sign the petition - 10% of the electorate - then a by-election will be held.

The MP has vowed to stand in any future poll.

He is currently suspended from the DUP pending an investigation by party officers.

The Recall of MPs Act 2015 limits media reporting during the campaign.

It prohibits the publication of exit polls and reporting of any statements "relating to whether any person has signed the petition" is a criminal offence.

The petition can be signed at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena, the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre in Ballymoney, and Sheskburn House Recreation Centre in Ballycastle.

Local Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan said: "This is an issue of integrity in government, it is not an orange and green issue.

"This is not even about nationalism versus unionism.

"This is an issue about trust in your politicians that they will do their jobs with integrity."

Sinn Fein is registering as a formal campaign group in an attempt to oust the MP.

The Ulster Unionists aren't doing so but party leader Robin Swann has said he will encourage anyone who believes that what the DUP MP did was wrong to sign the petition.

In March 2014, Mr Paisley lobbied the then Prime Minister David Cameron against a proposed United Nations resolution to investigate alleged human rights abuses during Sri Lanka's civil war, without disclosing his financial benefit.

Last month, he apologised for what he said was his "unintentional failure" to register the hospitality.

The DUP's 10 MPs are propping up Theresa May's minority government and Mr Paisley's suspension means he could miss key Brexit votes.

The recall petition will be open for signing until September 19 on weekdays from 9pm until 5pm. There will be two evening signings until 9pm during the six-week period. Voters are also able to cast their vote by post or proxy. There will be no running total given for the petition.

Legislation allows for up to 10 centres to be used and there has been considerable criticism of the Electoral Office for opening just three. However, it has defended the arrangements made.

Mr Paisley has been MP for the constituency since 2010.

The seat was first won by his father in 1970.

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