Belfast Telegraph

'Hallelujah' - Ian Paisley survives recall petition to remain North Antrim MP

9.4% of North Antrim electorate called for Paisley to lose seat

By Jonathan Bell and PA

The petition of recall to unseat MP Ian Paisley has failed by 444 votes.

In the early hours of Thursday morning it was announced 7,099 people signed the petition over the past six weeks - that was 9.4% of the electorate and 444 short of the required number. Fourteen of the papers lodged were deemed void or rejected for uncertainty.

Ten percent of the North Antrim electorate was required. That was 7,543 voters.

Mr Paisley did not attend the announcement. He was informed of the result by text message.

The petition of recall process opened after Mr Paisley was given a 30-sitting day ban from the Commons - the longest on record for any MP.

A parliamentary watchdog found in July that a year after receiving luxury holidays, Mr Paisley lobbied then prime minister David Cameron not to support a UN probe into alleged Sri Lankan human rights abuses.

As well as not declaring the holidays, the MP was found to have broke Commons lobbying rules.

Three centres were opened in North Antrim for the last six weeks to give voters the opportunity to sign the petition. Constituents were also able to put their name to the petition by post.

Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea declared the results on Thursday morning just after 1am.

Ms McVea communicated the outcome to Speaker John Bercow's office before announcing it at the electoral office's Belfast headquarters.

"The petition has not been successful," she said.

In a statement to the Press Association, Mr Paisley said the “electorate had spoken”.

“In July I apologised for a mistake made almost six years ago.”

“The electorate was asked to pass judgment. 90.6% have accepted my apology.

“The electorate has clearly spoken.

“I would like to thank my true friends, family, the electorate who have stood by me with unwavering support. Hallelujah.”

Reacting North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan said: "Disappointing result but certainly no endorsement of Ian Paisley’s actions.

"The issues raised by this scandal are not going away and neither are the questions for the DUP leadership."

Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Robin Swann MLA said public confidence in politics had collapsed.

"I respect that outcome," he said.

"However I would caution Ian Paisley not to see this as some sort of victory or endorsement of his actions in acting as a paid advocate for a foreign government and bringing North Antrim and the House of Commons into disrepute.

“Rather I would urge him to use the time that he has been suspended from Parliament and the DUP, to reflect on the severity of what he has done and the embarrassment he has brought on Northern Ireland.

"He should demonstrate some humility."

Mid and East Antrim SDLP Councillor Declan O’Loan said that many people declined to sign the petition because they believed Mr Paisley would win any by-election.

‘It would have been a better outcome for democracy and political progress here if the outcome had been different," he said.

"The weak support from unionist parties for the petition is further evidence of our divisions - they felt that going against Paisley would ultimately rebound on them.

"Unfortunately we have to rely only on the sanction imposed by the House of Commons to demonstrate that Ian Paisley’s conduct was unacceptable."

In the Commons in July Mr Paisley it was with “profound personal regret and deep personal embarrassment” that he had to make a statement over the report's findings.

But he denied he had any “ulterior motive for that genuine mistake” in 2013, adding that he accepted his “total failure” and offered another unreserved apology “without qualification”.

He will now return to the Commons in November when his ban ends.

He, however, remains suspended from the DUP as it conducts its own investigation into the matter.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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