The petition to remove Ian Paisley as North Antrim MP and force a by-election will be available for signing at three locations in the constituency, it has been confirmed.
In a public notice in today’s News Letter, the Electoral Office reveals that the petition will be available to sign in north Antrim’s three main towns – Ballymena, Ballymoney and Ballycastle.
Members of the public who want to force a by-election – in which Mr Paisley has made clear he will stand for re-election – will be able to sign from 9am next Wednesday.
The petition will be open to sign until 5pm each week day at the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre in Ballymoney, the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena and the Sheskburn House Recreation Centre in Ballycastle.
The petition will remain open to sign for six weeks, until 19 September.
There will also be evening signings – something required by the legislation governing recall petitions – on September 6 and 13, when the petition can be signed up until 9pm.
Northern Ireland’s Chief Electoral Officer, Virginia McVea – who is responsible for the process – had discretion under the Recall of MPs Act 2015 to designate up to 10 locations within the constituency for the petition to be signed.
Meanwhile, the DUP has clarified that Ian Paisley has not left the party after some confusion yesterday in the wake of Parliament redesignating the North Antrim MP as an independent.
The party confirmed that Mr Paisley remained suspended, rather than having been expelled, and as part of that the party had withdrawn the whip from him.
That puts him in the same category as MPs such as Ivan Lewis, who is suspended by Labour and is listed as an independent.
The recall process was automatically triggered when Mr Paisley was given a suspension of 30 sitting days – the longest on record since at least 1949 – over “serious misconduct” relating to taking free luxury holidays from the Sri Lankan government and then lobbying on behalf of the regime without declaring that they had given the valuable gifts to himself and his family.
The DUP veteran apologised for not declaring the holidays but insisted to Parliament’s standards commissioner that his letter asking the prime minister to change UK policy at the UN to that favoured by Sri Lanka did not amount to lobbying for the regime.
The petition to remove Mr Paisley will have to be signed by 7,547 people – 10% of the eligible North Antrim electorate – if there is to be a by-election.
Unlike the situation with an election, any voter – not just those who can provide a legitimate reason for not being able to vote in person – will be able to apply to sign the petition by post.
That rule, about which DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has expressed concern, is in place because, unlike an election, it will be known that anyone going into the signing place will be there to sign the petition, reducing the typical anonymity around an election.
Parties wanting to campaign for people to sign the petition will have to register if they are planning to spend more than £500.