Northern Ireland

Ian Paisley: DUP MP 'stunned' and 'humbled' at keeping seat

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Media captionRecall petition: North Antrim's unshakable Paisley legacy

Ian Paisley has said he is "stunned" and "greatly humbled" after retaining his seat as an MP.

The North Antrim MP will not face a by-election after fewer than 10% of his constituents signed a recall petition.

The petition was triggered after the DUP MP was suspended from Westminster for failing to declare two holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

"I think it was a miracle," Mr Paisley told BBC News NI.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Ian Paisley failed to declare two luxury holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government

The petition was the first in UK Parliamentary history.

It was open for six weeks at three North Antrim constituency centres.

The petition needed 7,543 signatures - or 10% of Mr Paisley's constituents - to force a by-election and cause Mr Paisley to lose his seat.

It was signed by 7,099 people.

'We like you big fella'

Speaking in Ballymena on Thursday, Mr Paisley said the result was evidence that "people accepted" his apology and that he had "put his hands up".

He said: "90.6% said: we are keeping you, big fella, we like you.

"I can't help the reasons why I am in the news....I could be a shrinking violet...I am not prepared to do that. I can't win in terms of my personality."

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Media captionIan Paisley: Petition result a 'miracle'

Mr Paisley had been suspended by the DUP "pending further investigation into his conduct".

But on Thursday the party confirmed that it had readmitted Mr Paisley to the party on Tuesday following an internal investigation.

In a statement, the DUP added: "Upon re-admission he is subject to a number of conditions including a ban on holding office within the party for 12 months.

"The party will be making no further comment on these matters."

'I have been punished'

Asked whether he expected to be re-instated by the party, the North Antrim MP said that while that decision is "up to the party officers", he "would be surprised if I wasn't (brought back)".

Image copyright Twitter

"I have been punished, I have been docked my salary.

"Going on the holiday was not the issue - not registering it was."

In an earlier statement, he said: "In July I apologised for a mistake made almost six years ago.

"The electorate was asked to pass judgment - 90.6% have accepted my apology.

"The electorate has clearly spoken.

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Media captionElectoral officer defends petition process

"I would like to thank my true friends, family, the electorate who have stood by me with unwavering support. Hallelujah."

On Thursday morning Mr Paisley updated his Twitter biography to say he had "90.6% support from recall petition".

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

'Effective endorsement'

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, was first to be notified before the result was posted online.

Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Michelle O'Neill criticised the DUP's "minor sanction" as an effective endorsement of his actions.

She said she believed the appropriate action would have been to sack Mr Paisley.

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said the result was no cause for celebration.

"In any other part of the UK, Ian Paisley would have had to resign in disgrace," said Ms Armstrong.

SDLP Chief Whip Colin McGrath said it was "disappointing" and that the DUP should remove Mr Paisley from the party.

"Given the heat around the ongoing RHI investigation, it is imperative Mrs Foster help restore public confidence in politics by acting swiftly to remove Mr Paisley from the party," he said.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said he 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".

He suggested that Mr Paisley "should demonstrate some humility".

Analysis: Narrow margin in recall petition

Enda McClafferty, BBC News NI Political Correspondent

If the petition was to succeed then it needed the support of at least 10% of the electorate in North Antrim. It got 9.4% and was 444 signatures short.

That means Ian Paisley will remain in the seat his family has held for almost 50 years.

He wasn't there for the count this morning but was told the news in a text from the Chief Electoral Officer, Virginia McVea. She defended how the process was managed.

Mr Paisley can now look forward to returning to the House of Commons, once he serves the remainder of his 30-day ban from Westminster.

The Chief Electoral Officer in Northern Ireland, Virginia McVea, has defended how the process was managed.

"The access to this electoral event is quite simply unprecedented," she told BBC News NI.

"Never before in Northern Ireland has there been postal vote on demand, no reason had to be given, and instead of one day for poll, we ran for six weeks and with two late nights on top."

Mr Paisley's 30-sitting day suspension from the House of Commons began on 4 September, and is one of the longest-ever bans to be handed down at Westminster.

According to the Commons library, it is the longest suspension since 1949, which is as far as online records go.

In July, after Westminster's standards committee announced its recommendations, Mr Paisley apologised for his behaviour in the Commons.

Key points from the standards committee's findings

  • Mr Paisley went on three luxury holidays to Sri Lanka at the expense of the Sri Lankan government in 2013.
  • The committee found the cost "much higher" than the £50,000 Mr Paisley estimated.
  • In 2014, Mr Paisley wrote to the prime minister to lobby against supporting a UN resolution on Sri Lanka over alleged human rights abuses.
  • By failing to declare his trip, Mr Paisley "breached the rule against paid advocacy, the committee said.
  • The committee acknowledged that there was "inconsistent guidance" in relation to registering such trips, but it did not "exonerate Mr Paisley from breaching the advocacy rule".

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