Belfast Telegraph

Anger over 'limited' places in North Antrim to sign petition over Paisley

By Michael Sheils McNamee

Sinn Fein and the UUP have hit out at the "limited" provision of centres for constituents to sign a petition of recall which could trigger an election to unseat DUP MP Ian Paisley.

A petition in Mr Paisley's North Antrim constituency is taking place in the wake of a vote in the House of Commons last month to suspend the MP for 30 days after revelations he failed to declare two family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

The petition has the potential to trigger a by-election if 10% of constituents sign the petition - which works out at 7,547. There was the potential for as many as 10 petition centres to be opened.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann expressed his disappointment at the decision, saying the number of centres was "totally inadequate for a constituency the size of North Antrim", and that the opening hours of 9am to 5pm would make it difficult for many to sign the recall petition.

He added: "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."

The decision to open three centres has been defended by Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea.

She told the BBC: "I could have opened one venue or I could have opened 10.

"This runs for a lengthy period - six weeks and during that period I determined that it would be reasonable to expect people to be able to reach these three venues."

Sinn Fein North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan called on the Electoral Commission to work to ensure the democratic process is "not subverted".

He continued: "North Antrim is a large constituency and Sinn Fein proposed that the recall petition should be available in as many as 10 local government offices. I would urge the Electoral Commission to provide more centres and more flexible opening times to ensure that the democratic process is not subverted."

Belfast Telegraph

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