Recall petition fails to unseat Ian Paisley

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At the end of six weeks of campaigning, an official petition of recall to remove DUP MP Ian Paisley over corruption allegations has fallen just short of the number required.

Just before 2am on Thursday morning, it was announced 7,099 people had signed the petition, 444 signatures short of the required number of 7,543, or 10% of the electorate in the North Antrim constituency.

Under 2015 legislation, the Westminster parliament automatically set in motion the petition of recall process after Mr Paisley was given a 30-sitting day ban from the Commons, the longest on record for any MP.

The ban was imposed after it was uncovered that the prominent unionist had received luxury holidays in return for lobbying then British Prime Minister David Cameron not to support a UN probe into human rights abuses by the Sri Lanka government.

As well as not declaring the holidays, the MP was found to have broken Commons lobbying rules. The disgraced MP is the first in Westminster history to face the recall process.

The petition took place under stringent “secrecy rules” which limited public reporting on the six-week campaign.

There had also been strong criticism of the Electoral Office in the North after just three centres for signing the petition were opened. The public locations in unionist town centres made it difficult, and potentially dangerous, for those signing the petition.

Responding to this morning’s announcement, Sinn Fein representative Philip McGuigan said it was a “disappointing result” but “no endorsement of Ian Paisley’s actions”.

He strengthened his criticism of the recall process after receiving a bizarre warning from the PSNI over a social media statement that referred to the potential “knife-edge” result. It was claimed by the Electoral Office to be a violation of the secrecy rules.

“It’s regretful that the Electoral Office did not pay as much attention to ensuring the people of North Antrim were afforded their democratic rights because they clearly did not do enough to facilitate people who wished to sign the petition,” he said.

“They had the option of opening as many as ten locations where people could sign the petition, yet they inexplicably opted to go for just three.

“The lack of an effective public awareness campaign and the restrictive opening hours of the signing centres were also major problems.

“Nevertheless, the issues raised by this scandal are not going away and neither are the questions for the DUP leadership.”

Mr Paisley’s family has held the North Antrim seat, a DUP stronghold, for nearly 50 years. Despite rising opposition to Brexit and anger at the DUP over unrelated corruption allegations relating to a cash-for-ash green energy scheme, he was odds-on to win a by-election. However, the failure of the recall petition has averted what would have been a bitter and deeply embarrassing political contest.

Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann, who supported the recall, said public confidence in politics had collapsed.

“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.”

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