The first recall votes in British or Irish history have been cast in a bid to force disgraced DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr from office.
The unionist hardliner has recently admitting to accepting free holidays worth a six-figure sum from the Sri Lankan government while lobbying on its behalf. He claimed there had been an “unintentional failure” by him to register the gifts.
Paisley was subsequently suspended from parliament for 30 days, and under legislation passed by Westminster in 2015, faces a potential by-election if a recall petition receives the support of ten percent of his North Antrim electorate.
Sinn Fein and the SDLP are actively campaigning in support of the recall petition. Although the DUP has formally suspended Paisley’s membership, it is expected to still support him as a candidate after he indicated he would defend his seat in any event.
The petition will remain open for six weeks and, controversially, can be signed at only three locations in the sprawling constituency - in Ballymena, Ballymoney, and Ballycastle. A queue was reported at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena as signing began on Wednesday.
Speaking outside the petition centre in Ballymoney, Sinn Fein North Antrim assembly member Philip McGuigan said it was not an “orange and green issue” but “an issue of integrity”.
“There is a huge deal of anger right across the political spectrum in this constituency at the behaviour of their MP,” he commented.
“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.”
The scale of the task to oust the North Antrim MP is huge: the seat has been held by Mr Paisley, or his father, since June 18, 1970.
Mid and East Antrim SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan encouraged all registered voters in the constituency to add their name to the recall petition.
“Clearly this is a matter of great concern to the public as it is to me. It is very important to stand up for integrity in politics,” he said.
The petition, which will run from August 8 to September 19, will be available for signing on weekdays from 9am to 5pm, as well as September 6 and 13 until 9pm.
Rather than being announced at a count centre, the Westminster parliament will be notified of the result which will then be issued through public notices. The result is expected to be issued on September 20.
Applications to sign by post or proxy are available via the Electoral Office website, eoni.org.uk.
A total of 75,478 people are registered to vote in North Antrim - meaning 7,547 signatures will trigger a by-election.