Arrangements for signing a petition to potentially unseat North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley must be made as accessible as possible, Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan has said.
The North Antrim MLA was commenting after writing to the Chief Electoral Officer.
In a press release issued to ‘Ballymena Daily’ today, he said: “There is a huge deal of anger in this constituency at the scandal involving Ian Paisley Jr and it is only right that people are given the opportunity to express their views by signing the recall petition.
“The legislation provides for up to ten centres to be used and I have urged the Chief Electoral Officer to ensure that the maximum number are put in place.
“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.
“There is also a lack of clarity regarding what arrangements will be made for people to sign during normal working hours or if they are unable to attend a centre in person.
“I appreciate that this is the first time the legislation has been enacted but the Electoral Office needs to deal with these issues in a way that ensures the people of North Antrim have every possible opportunity to have their say on an issue that goes to the heart of the debate around integrity in public office.”
Reports say the first day for signing the petition will be Wednesday August 8.
Chief electoral officer, Virginia McVea, said there are 75,478 people registered to vote in the North Antrim constituency – meaning 7,547 must sign the petition for Mr Paisley to have to step down ahead of a by-election.
Mr Paisley received an unprecedented suspension of 30 sitting days from the House of Commons for failing to declare two luxury family holidays to Sri Lanka, paid for by its government.
The North Antrim MP subsequently lobbied on behalf of the south Asian island’s regime, writing to then prime minister David Cameron in 2014 urging him not to support a United Nations investigation into human rights abuses.
Mr Paisley has also been suspended by the DUP “pending further investigation into his conduct”.
Legislation introduced in 2016 means any MP who is jailed or suspended from parliament for more than 10 days can be ousted if ten per cent of their constituency’s electorate put their name to a petition.
Up to ten venues will be opened across the North Antrim constituency for six weeks to enable people to sign their names in the first recall petition in UK parliamentary history.
Ms McVea has confirmed that no rolling tally of the number of signatures will be published during the process, meaning it will not be until after September 19, when the petition closes, that Mr Paisley will learn his fate.
The Electoral Office for Northern Ireland has answered the following questions:
What is a Recall Petition?
If a recall petition is called and you are a constituent of the area, you can sign a petition to have an MP removed
How do I sign the Petition?
A notice about the petition will be posted out to every constituent in that area. You can sign it, if you want, in a few ways.
Firstly, you can go in person to one of the places set up in the area. You will be told about these after a recall petition is announced. Or, without having to give a reason, you can ask to sign a petition by post and it will be sent to you. You can ask to sign the petition using a proxy. A proxy is someone who can sign the petition for you. You must apply to use a proxy and explain why you can’t reasonably be expected to sign the petition yourself. Information on how to do this will be provided.
How long does this all last?
The petition will be open for six weeks, from 9am-5pm week-days.
If 10% of constituents in the area sign it the MP will be removed and there will be a by-election. More information will be published on this site after hearing from Parliament.