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Paisley dynasty is on course for a golden anniversary

By Noel McAdam

Published 25/04/2015

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley

The Paisley dynasty appears secure in North Antrim.

Fixed-term parliaments should mean the next general election is in 2020, by which time a Paisley will likely have been at the helm in the constituency for 50 years.

Except that this election threatens to plunge parliament into the greatest uncertainty since the 1970s, with a potential second election looming within months.

Against that backdrop, this is also the first election Ian Paisley jnr has had to fight without the support of his father - who first won the constituency in 1970 - after his death last September.

He is, nonetheless, campaigning with customary vigour and believes in the traditional route of knocking on doors and meeting people. And he has already addressed the likely state of flux in the aftermath of May 7 when his party believes it could be in a position of influence.

While some Westminster parties insist they would not touch the DUP even with John Taylor's bargepole, Mr Paisley insists this is not the case.

"There are MPs who talk to us, from all sides, who say: 'We'd love to do a coalition with you guys if we had to.' I get that from both Labour and Tory," he said last month.

His leader Peter Robinson quickly pooh-poohed any talk of a DUP price tag but Mr Paisley was more forthright, suggesting the cost of winning its backing would be "hundreds of millions of pounds" for Northern Ireland.

"It wouldn't be a paltry sum," he insisted.

This is a constituency well used to long-serving MPs. Including a period before the current boundaries were set in 1950 there had been only four Members over 90 years.

The DUP's arch-rival Jim Allister is not standing this time, being heavily defeated by the Paisley brand in 2010, but the TUV candidate Timothy Gaston has a strong grounding and topped the poll in the precious Paisley turn of Bannside in last year's elections for the new super councils. For TUV this is then, primarily, a test of whether it could gain a second Assembly seat here next year.

Last time former Conservative Irwin Armstrong stood for the joint Ulster Unionist/Tory electoral experiment, but in 2005 the strictly UUP candidate was Rodney McCune, who has been shifted to South Belfast.

It is now an old stomping ground for Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay, the SDLP's Declan O'Loan and Jayne Dunlop for Alliance, who will all be seeking to improve their past performances in North Antrim.

It is not a constituency without problems - 20% have a long-term health problem or disability, and almost a third of the population have no qualifications. But the main issue on the doorsteps is the economy, particularly after the loss of 870 jobs at the JTI Gallahers cigarette factory in Ballymena.

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