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DUP MP Ian Paisley ‘humbled and privileged’ to continue serving

Ian Paisley said he had enjoyed unwavering support from his electorate (Liam McBurney/PA) Photo: PA Wire/PA Images

Ian Paisley said he was “humbled and privileged” after Westminster’s first recall petition fell short of the threshold required to unseat him.

The MP also hailed his family and “true friends” for sticking by him after he narrowly avoided a by-election.

Mr Paisley would have been ousted as an MP if 10% of the electorate in his North Antrim constituency – 7,543 voters – signed the petition. In the event, 7,099 people signed it (9.4%).

The petition device, created following the Westminster expenses scandal, was initiated after Mr Paisley was banned from the House of Commons for 30 sitting days for failing to declare two 2013 family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

A parliamentary watchdog found in July that a year after the luxury holidays, Mr Paisley lobbied then prime minister David Cameron not to support a UN probe into alleged Sri Lankan human rights abuses.

Mr Paisley told Q Radio he had enjoyed “unwavering support” from his electorate.

“I feel extremely humbled by that, extremely privileged by it and I look forward now to getting on with doing the job that I am honoured to do for all of my constituents in the weeks and hopefully years ahead.”

Earlier, in a statement to the Press Association, Mr Paisley said he had 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.

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

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The long-standing Democratic Unionist, whose late father the Reverend Ian Paisley founded the party, is suspended from the DUP pending its own internal investigation into his conduct.

Three centres were opened in North Antrim for the last six weeks to give voters the opportunity to sign the petition. Constituents were also able to put their name to the petition via post.

Sinn Fein campaigned vociferously to unseat Mr Paisley and afterwards its North Antrim Assembly member Philip McGuigan said more centres should have been available.

He added: “The result should also not be taken as an endorsement of Ian Paisley’s actions but rather as an indictment on the Electoral Office who did not do enough to facilitate the people of North Antrim who wished to sign the petition.”

Mr Paisley has been suspended from the DUP.

Mr McGuigan said: “Ian Paisley’s party leadership have yet to condemn these actions or to confirm whether or not he still has their support as MP for North Antrim.

“That is a failure of leadership.

“They need to come out of their hiding place and address the very serious issues at the heart of this scandal.”

Northern Ireland’s Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea announced the outcome in Belfast around 1.25am on Thursday morning after a count that commenced at midnight. She rejected criticism over count centres.

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She said there had been “unprecedented” access afforded, with the longest ever electoral period in the region and voters able to access postal ballots on demand.

“There has never been access to an electoral event like that before,” said told the Press Association.

“And the three designated places were the three hubs within the North Antrim constituency.”

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Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said: “I would urge him (Mr Paisley) to use the time that he has been suspended from Parliament and the DUP, to reflect on the severity of what he has done and the embarrassment he has brought on Northern Ireland. He should demonstrate some humility.”

In the 2017 general election, Mr Paisley retained his North Antrim seat with a landslide 20,000-plus majority, securing nearly 59% of the vote.