Ian Paisley constituents pondering on ‘replacing the irreplaceable’
For a snapshot of unionist reaction to Ian Paisley’s decision to stand down after 40 years as MP, Ballymena on an early spring morning was the place to be.
The town where Mr Paisley grew up is situated in the heartland of his North Antrim constituency. His father James Kyle Paisley also served as an Independent Baptist pastor here.
First elected to Westminster in 1970, Dr Paisley held the North Antrim seat at nine subsequent General Elections, posting a 17,965 majority at the 2005 poll.
Few were surprised by his decision to quit, and most agreed that the founding father of the DUP would be impossible to replace.
There was also consensus among most DUP voters that they would opt for Ian Paisley jnr over Jim Allister come election day.
The story of Ian Paisley’s retirement was broken by the Ballymena Guardian.
The paper’s editor Jim Flanagan interviewed him at Stormont on Monday and found him in reflective mood.
“He was casting his mind back to when it all started,” he said.
“It was a mood of mission accomplished. He’s done his best for 40 years and now feels it is time for someone else to build on that legacy. There was no regret.
“In fact I think he is even more convinced now that the decision he took three years ago to share power was the right one.”
Outside, people on the street were generally supportive of Mr Paisley’s time as MP, and agreed it was time he stood down.
Joy Richmond, from Ahoghill, said: “He’s in his 80s and at this time of life he deserves a break.
“He’s been like a father figure to this area and a lot of people will be sad to see him step down.
“I doubt whether his replacement will have the same appeal to so many people.”
Bill Hamilton, from Antrim, agreed it would be difficult to replace the former DUP leader.
“I doubt if the son will rise to anything like the same calibre and I doubt whether he will get anything like the same votes,” he said.
At The Front Page bar in the town centre the conversation centred on Mr Paisley.
The bar’s proprietor, Stephen Reynolds, said his character was the veteran politician’s strongest asset. He was a real character, there was that bit of celebrity status with him,” he said.
“His face, his demeanour, his tone — they were instantly recognisable. He will be missed but the memories will live on, and for most people it will be in a positive sense.”
Sandra Wallace said Dr Paisley had worked tirelessly for the town.
“He got a bit of criticism but he was very good for Ballymena,” she said. “He’s a good age and he has been around a long time, so it’s probably time someone younger took over.”
Meanwhile Elizabeth Davidson said Mr Paisley had worked hard for all sides of the community.
“Ian Paisley did a lot for all his constituents, no matter who they were,” she said. “At his age, he needs some time to himself and I’m sure everyone will wish him well.”