Belfast Telegraph

North Antrim petition of recall posts probe complete

By Lauren Harte

Police have completed their investigation into social media posts by a Sinn Fein MLA and a TUV councillor during the period a petition to call a by-election in North Antrim was in operation.

Philip McGuigan from Sinn Fein and the TUV's Timothy Gaston were interviewed by police after the North Antrim MP Ian Paisley alleged that electoral law had been broken during the recent recall petition process.

The UK's first 'petition of recall' was triggered after the House of Commons agreed to suspend Mr Paisley for 30 parliamentary 'sitting days' from September 4, 2018.

The petition was open for six weeks, and required 10% of the eligible registered electorate to sign it to be successful.

In North Antrim, the required number of signatures was 7,543 - but the target wasn't reached.

While the petition is open, electoral law forbids public commentary about who or how many have signed it.

The PSNI confirmed yesterday that their investigation into the posts by the two elected representatives was complete.

A file has now been sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

On September 4, Mr Gaston, who sits on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, had stated on Facebook that he had signed the recall petition.

He was contacted by chief electoral officer Virginia McVea the next day informing him that the post was in breach of legislation. Once he was made aware of the issue, Mr Gaston immediately amended it.

North Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Mr McGuigan was also interviewed by police about a video he posted on social media that appeared to comment on the state of the petition.

Mr Paisley returned to the House of Commons this week.

The petition was initiated after Mr Paisley failed to declare two 2013 family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

In July a parliamentary watchdog found that a year after the luxury holidays Mr Paisley lobbied then Prime Minister David Cameron not to support a UN probe into alleged Sri Lankan human rights abuses during that country's civil war.

Belfast Telegraph

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