Many republicans won't sign Ian Paisley petition, says former Sinn Fein councillor
A former Sinn Fein councillor says he believes suspended DUP MP Ian Paisley is undergoing "elements of a witch-hunt".
Paul Maguire also claims many republicans won't sign the petition of recall which could trigger a by-election with the potential to unseat him.
The independent Braid councillor, who sits on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, resigned from Sinn Fein along with 17 activists in August 2016 over the treatment of Daithi McKay.
Mr McKay resigned as North Antrim MLA after being suspended from Sinn Fein amid claims he coached loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson on how former First Minister Peter Robinson's name could be drawn into the Nama controversy. He was replaced by Philip McGuigan. Mr Paisley was last week handed a 30-sitting day suspension from the House of Commons, and has been suspended from the DUP "pending further investigation into his conduct".
He breached parliamentary rules by not declaring two luxury foreign holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.
A recall petition, which would trigger a by-election in North Antrim if it gathers 7,547 signatures, is expected to open next week and will be available to sign for six weeks.
Yesterday, Mr Maguire stated that he would not sign the petition of recall, and believed there were "elements working behind the scenes looking to get rid" of Mr Paisley.
"Many Catholics, republicans and nationalists won't sign the petition because of the work Ian Paisley Jr has done, but they won't come out and say it," he claimed.
"It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that they will get over 7,000 signatures, because Sinn Fein will put the machine behind it, and it is capable of gathering that number of signatures.
"If it comes to a by-election I think Ian Paisley Jr will get himself re-elected.
"The challenge for him is selection - will the DUP select him again as a candidate? There are those who support him because of who he is and who his father was, and the Free Presbyterian link.
"But there are many others in the DUP who would be happy to let him go - they could throw him under the bus as Sinn Fein did with Daithi McKay and Barry McElduff.
"He used the word 'opportunists' in a Ballymena Guardian article, and I believe he was referring to people in his own camp."
Mr Maguire also believes a by-election would "not benefit North Antrim constituents."
"They would be losing the Paisley brand, his experience," he added. "One way or another he will be re-elected, either as a DUP MP or an independent.
"Look at the money which is going to be used doing this."
Mr Maguire said he wasn't seeking to excuse Mr Paisley's actions over his Sri Lanka trips.
"That mistake is hard to swallow," he acknowledged.
"He admitted it and accepted the sanctions, he has been suspended from the House and his own party -what more do you want? What can North Antrim gain by losing Ian Paisley?
"You only have to look at what he has done for the community, and his father before him. I think his constituency will support him, whether his party does is another matter."
Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan called for Mr Paisley to resign, or, if he refused, for the DUP to force his resignation.
He said that if the DUP failed to do this, the North Antrim electorate "deserve to be able to use their democratic right to vote" in a by-election.
Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea said the "register of people who are eligible to sign the petition of recall will be available from Friday."
The number of people entitled to sign the petition is 75,478.
The DUP declined to comment. In a statement last week, it said it took the House of Commons Committee on Standards report on Mr Paisley "very seriously."