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Ian Paisley Junior's celebrations halted by questions about Peter Robinson

Published 07/05/2010

Ian Paisley Junior was barely allowed to start his celebrations today as he came under siege over the sensational defeat of his party leader Peter Robinson.

The newly-elected Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP for North Antrim insisted there was no push against the Northern Ireland First Minister, but he refused to predict if the deposed East Belfast MP would be in charge in the weeks to come.

Mr Paisley Jnr trounced his main challenger, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) candidate Jim Allister, to retain the seat first won by his father Rev Ian Paisley four decades ago.

Despite forecasts that Mr Allister could seriously dent the Paisley vote in their own heartland, the DUP took nearly half of the 42,579 ballot papers, out-polling their former party colleague by almost three to one.

Paying tribute to his father, who along with his mother Eileen joined supporters at the Ballymena count centre, Mr Paisley Jnr said he would strive to emulate the former DUP leader.

"If I can follow in those footsteps ever so carefully and leave any sort of impregnation on the sands and soils of this wonderful constituency I will try, but no man in Ulster will ever come up to the mark of Ian Paisley Snr," he said.

The victory will be seen as a vote for power-sharing in the Stormont Executive, against which Mr Allister had based his campaign.

But moments after an ebullient victory speech in the minor hall at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Mr Paisley Junior battled to fend off speculation about Mr Robinson's future after losing his Westminster seat.

"That question of leadership, as far as we are concerned, isn't on the table tonight," he said.

The incoming North Antrim MP blamed allegations against Mr Robinson and his wife Iris Robinson for the defeat.

"I had false allegations made against me, (but) I had two years to clear those things up before coming before the public again," he said.

"He (Mr Robinson) hasn't been given that space of that distance to do that.

"I think as a result of all that, he has been caught in what I would describe as a 'hunt him down and get him' campaign."

Asked if Mr Robinson would remain on as DUP leader, he added: "I don't hear anyone within the party saying anything different to me."

Mr Allister, who had conceded defeat almost an hour before the official result, insisted a "very healthy quota" for the TUV in North Antrim would translate better under the proportional representation system in the the next Stormont Assembly polls.

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