Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein confident it can force Ian Paisley to resign

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein has said it is confident of securing the 7,547 signatures needed to unseat Ian Paisley as North Antrim MP.

The party said there was considerable anger across the political divide at Mr Paisley's failure to declare two luxury holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

A petition of recall, which could result in the MP being forced to fight a by-election, opens today.

Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan said his party would register as a formal campaign group in an attempt to oust the MP.

It is the first time in British parliamentary history that a recall petition has been used.

Mr McGuigan said he was confident of securing signatures from the required 10% of the electorate in order to compel a resignation.

"There is a huge deal of anger right across the political spectrum in this constituency at the behaviour of their MP," he said.

"They are appalled at sleaze in politics, a lack of integrity in public office and a series of scandals linked to the DUP going back many years.

"This recall petition is an opportunity for people to have their say on all of that.

"I believe there is a responsibility on us to ensure that process is as accessible as possible which is why Sinn Fein is registering as an official campaign group."

The Electoral Office has faced substantial criticism for providing just three centres across the constituency where people can sign the petition.

Legislation allowed for up to 10 centres to be used.

The petition, which will run until September 19, will be available for signing only on weekdays from 9am to 5pm in centres in Ballymoney, Ballymena and Ballycastle.

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.

Mr McGuigan said: "I believe the Electoral Office could and should have done more to assist people to engage with the petition, for instance by opening more locations for longer hours.

"However, in the absence of that, Sinn Fein will certainly do as much as we possibly can to assist and encourage people to exercise their right to have their say in this process."

UUP leader Robin Swann also described the opening of just three locations as "totally inadequate for a constituency the size of North Antrim".

Mr Swann, a North Antrim MLA, expressed concern about the "restricted opening times of 9am-5pm" on weekdays. The UUP won't register to campaign for Mr Paisley's removal but its leader has said he will sign the petition and will encourage anyone who believes what the DUP MP did was wrong to do likewise.

The Electoral Office has defended the arrangements it has made.

Mr Paisley has been suspended by Westminster for 30 days for failing to declare the two luxury holidays valued at up to £100,000.

He has also been suspended from the DUP pending investigation by party officers.

Causeway Coast and Glens DUP councillor John Finlay is organising a rally in support of Mr Paisley to be staged next Monday.

Belfast Telegraph

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