Rivals line up to unseat Ian Paisley as by-election petition opens

Ian Paisley would face a by-election if 7,543 people sign the petition
Ian Paisley would face a by-election if 7,543 people sign the petition

As the petition to unseat Ian Paisley opens today, Sinn Fein has become the second party to say that it will register as an official campaigner, urging North Antrim voters to remove the DUP veteran.

Last week the Alliance Party said that it would register as a campaigner for the recall petition process, the first time that the legislation has ever been used anywhere in the UK since being passed in 2015 as a response to the Westminster expenses scandal.

Under the Recall of MPs Act, anyone planning to spend more than £500 on campaigning to get people to sign a recall petition must register with the Electoral Office.

North Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan said: “This recall petition is an opportunity for people to have their say on all of that and I believe there is a responsibility on us to ensure that process is an accessible as possible which is why Sinn Fein are registering as an official campaign group.”

Fellow North Antrim MLA and Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann has said that his party will not be registering to campaign for Mr Paisley’s removal but that he will be personally signing the petition.

Mr Paisley will be unseated if 10% of eligible North Antrim voters – 7,543 people – sign the petition over the next six weeks. It is available at the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre in Ballymoney, the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena and the Sheskburn House Recreation Centre in Ballycastle.

The process was initiated automatically after Parliament suspended Mr Paisley for 30 sitting days – the longest punishment for an MP since at least 1949 – over his lobbying for the Sri Lankan government after it gave the MP and his family free luxury holidays worth between £50,000 and £100,000.