Video: Derry Sinn FÃ©in delegation visit Ballymoney to support Ian Paisley recall petition
A group of Derry-based representatives travelled to Ballymoney on Wednesday to accompany North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan to the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre in the town where he signed a petition calling for the removal of the local DUP MP Ian Paisley.
Foyle MP Elisha McCallion, Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney and East Derry MLA Caoimhe Archibald were among a Sinn Féin delegation that made the trip.
Mr. Paisley has been suspended from Parliament for 30 days after the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in Westminster found he had failed to declare two family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013 that were paid for by the Government of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Parliamentary Commissioner found that Mr. Paisley: "Breached the House’s rule on paid advocacy (lobbying in return for reward or consideration) by writing to the Prime Minister [David Cameron] on March 19, 2014 to lobby against supporting a UN resolution on Sri Lanka.
"This amounted to asking for an exclusive benefit for Sri Lanka, when he had received personal benefit and hospitality from the Sri Lankan government within the previous twelve months."
She further found that he had "at the same time, breached the House’s rules on declaration by failing to declare the personal benefit and hospitality from the Sri Lankan government in his letter to the Prime Minister of March 19, 2014."
And that he had "breached the House’s rules on registration of interests by failing to register within the 28 days agreed by the House the two visits he made to Sri Lanka with family members in March/April 2013 and in July 2013."
Mr. Paisley, who apologised for having failed to register the visits but disputed the Commissioner’s interpretation of the ‘paid advocacy’ rule will now face a by-election if 10 per cent of his constituents support the recall petition, which opened today.
Speaking in the House of Commons on July 19 after the Commissioner's findings were published, Mr. Paisley stated: "In 2013, in the course of my first Parliament, I failed properly to register and declare two overseas visits. I had no ulterior motive for that genuine mistake. I do recognise how serious a mistake it was.
"As a Member of Parliament, I know that I have personal responsibility to seek to be above reproach. I acknowledge that registration of such matters and subsequent declarations must be adhered to diligently. I accept my total failure in that matter.
"I have given an unreserved apology to the House and to colleagues. I take the opportunity to do so again from my place here, and I do it without qualification. I say sorry and apologise for the failings that were identified in the Standards Committee report.
"I am disappointed that I was not able to persuade members of the Committee of the weight of my arguments on some of the major matters of mitigation, especially on the issue of paid advocacy. However, I accept the report, but I do so regret its sanctions. I have apologised to the House and to colleagues and I understand that, subject to the decision of this House, I may, from September, be subject to a suspension lasting 30 days."
The Dunloy-based Sinn Féin MLA, Mr. McGuigan, remarked: "There is a huge deal of anger right across the political spectrum in this constituency at the behaviour of their MP."
He continued: “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 Féin are registering as an official campaign group.
“I believe the Electoral Office could and should have done more to assist people to engage with the petition, for instance by opening more locations for longer hours.
"However, in the absence of that, Sinn Féin will certainly do as much as we possibly can to assist and encourage people to exercise their right to have their say in this process.”