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Ian Paisley seat will be battlefield for unionism’s future

There has been talk for years about coolness between the Paisleys and the Robinsons — the two “family firms” that have long dominated the DUP.

Recent weeks have provided clear evidence that Ian snr has not been overly delighted with the man who succeeded him as party leader and First Minister.

But here's a rich irony thrown up by the current political scene.

Peter Robinson's future as DUP leader may well depend on the Paisley dynasty seeing off the threat from Jim Allister.

A TUV victory in North Antrim would be disastrous for the party. Even a narrow victory for Ian junior, in a seat comfortably held by his father, could well cause a major wobble among colleagues.

Paisley is widely credited with bringing down liberal Unionist Prime Minister Terence O'Neill decades ago.

What is sometimes forgotten is that O'Neill actually defeated his arch-critic when they went head to head in a North Antrim election battle in 1969.

The margin of victory was so close — in a once safe seat — that it helped finish off the then-Stormont Prime Minister.

More than 40 years later North Antrim once again finds itself at the heart of battle for unionism's future.

And this time a Stormont First Minister has a lot to lose.

Shows of DUP unity will presumably take place as Ian junior fights to defend the seat. But those who like to speculate about friction between the Paisley and Robinson camps have a fair bit of recent material to cite.

After the sex and money scandal about the First Minister's MP wife Iris broke in January, Ian senior was reported to be “beyond fury”. That newspaper claim was never denied.

The Paisleys also snubbed repeated opportunities to declare their support for the embattled First Minister in the period immediately after the Iris scandal.

More recently, Paisley snr delivered what was viewed as a sharp rebuke to Mr Robinson.

It came in his weekly News Letter column, after the DUP leader had spoken of having a “clever device” to use in the event of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement not working out as planned. Paisley wrote: “All this talk of clever tricks and cunning plans is to undermine the chance of its success.”

The fate of the DUP founder and the man who lived so long in his shadow remain tied together. Their double act worked over the years, to the chagrin of opponents.

But now the son of the ‘Big Man’ has to win one for his dad, his party — and Peter Robinson.

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