Northern Ireland

Voters able to sign Paisley petition in three locations

Ian Paisley Image copyright Pacemaker

Three locations are to be opened for people wishing to sign a petition that could force a by-election in North Antrim.

In July MPs voted to suspend the DUP MP Ian Paisley for 30 sitting days following his failure to declare two family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

An election is triggered if 10% of constituents sign the petition.

The Electoral Office published details of the recall petition on Friday.

It is the first in UK parliamentary history.

The Recall of MPs Bill became law in 2015 under the coalition government.

Mr Paisley has insisted he will fight any by-election if he is forced to stand down.

Speaking in the House of Commons before his suspension, he admitted "deep personal embarrassment" and said he had made a "genuine mistake".

Criticism

The petition will be open for signing from 8 August to 19 September from 09:00-17:00 BST, Monday to Friday, with opening hours extended to 21:00 BST on 6 and 13 September.

Image caption The petition can be signed at three centres

Letters will be sent to constituents next week informing them of the details of the petition.

Legislation allows for up to 10 locations for the petition however the electoral office has opened three, a decision which has drawn criticism from some political parties.

Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader, Robin Swann said he was "disappointed" about the amount of centres opened.

"Not only are three petition centres totally inadequate for a constituency the size of North Antrim, by restricting the opening hours, the Electoral Office has shown little regard to people in daytime employment," he said.

Mr Swann confirmed he will be signing the petition. TUV leader Jim Allister also said he would sign it.

Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan said he had urged the chief electoral officer to ensure that the maximum number of centres were put in places.

"Given that North Antrim is such a large geographical area, these centres should also be well spread across the constituency to ensure the greatest level of access", he said.

But Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea rejected the criticism.

"I could have opened one venue or I could have opened 10," she told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"This runs for a lengthy period - six weeks and during that period I determined that it would be reasonable to expect people to be able to reach these three venues.

"In addition there is a change in the law in relation to the postal application.

"Anyone who chooses not to attend in person will be able to apply for the postal option and if their details are verified, can receive it within six weeks."

The designated petition signing venues are located at:

  • Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre, Ballymoney
  • Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena
  • Sheskburn House Recreation Centre, Ballycastle

Only voters registered in the constituency are eligible. They can also apply to sign by post or proxy.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The rooms where the petition can be signed will look similar to a polling station

Applications can be downloaded at eoni.org.uk.

There are two help lines for constituents who have queries about the process.

They are 02890446600 and 02890446668.

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