Belfast Telegraph

Alex Kane: Odds heavily stacked in Ian Paisley's favour whatever way you look at it

Signage for the recall petition which opened at the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre in Ballymoney
Signage for the recall petition which opened at the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre in Ballymoney
Alex Kane

By Alex Kane

At first glance the sight of quite a few people heading into the three venues across north Antrim to sign a petition in favour of a recall by-election should unsettle Ian Paisley.

This, after all, isn't the sort of Orange/Green or Us/Them election we're used to in Northern Ireland. Indeed, this is the first election of its kind in the United Kingdom, so none of us can be overly confident in our predictions.

But the fact that Sinn Fein were first out of the traps, so to speak, and so free with the use of the word 'integrity' will probably do Paisley no harm. Even if he has let himself down in the eyes of many unionists, they will still rally to him if there is an election (which is, I think, likely) and it looks like it is being orchestrated by Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein cannot win this under their own banner; and nor can it be won by a candidate who has their nod of approval.

So Paisley will have some concerns that both Jim Allister and Robin Swann will be signing the petition. In a statement last week Swann said: "The UUP... would encourage any North Antrim electors who think that what Ian Paisley did was wrong to sign the petition and allow the entire North Antrim electorate to have their say."

Again, it's unlikely that a TUV/UUP endorsed candidate would beat Paisley, particularly if that candidate were also endorsed by SF/SDLP. But if that means two or three other candidates in the field he'd probably be happy enough.

It looks as though the DUP Constituency Association is behind him: that said, a lot of people, including key figures in the leadership, will be looking at the level of support he attracts at a pro-Paisley event being organised for him next Monday.

Any indication of a major split in the association, or a low turnout on the night, may embolden the leadership - who suspended him two weeks ago - to push for de-selection. The calculation they have to make - and they'll be doing their own soundings - is whether Brand DUP could win the seat from Brand Paisley.

The problem, of course, is that de-selection would tear the association apart and it would take a strong profile to challenge Paisley on his own turf; as well as risking a civil war across the entire party.

As it stands - although there are six weeks to go - the odds seem heavily stacked in Paisley's favour. A mixed field helps him. Any hint of Sinn Fein/SDLP supporting a candidate helps him. The fear of a split in the DUP helps him. The Paisley name and influence of his mother helps him. The near impossibility of finding a single candidate who could be endorsed by very big hitters and who could also attract the thousands of votes required helps him. The fact that most people seem to think he'll win no matter what happens also helps him.

North Antrim has been held by a Paisley since June 18, 1970. It would take an earthquake off the Richter Scale to unseat him. It's not impossible, but at this point it seems very unlikely.

The Paisley family at home in 1988. From left to right Ian Junior, Cherith, Rhonda, Kyle. Pic Pacemaker
The Paisley family at home in 1988. From left to right Ian Junior, Cherith, Rhonda, Kyle. Pic Pacemaker
Ian Paisley hurdles a fence during canvassing for 2010 election. Pic Charles McQuillan Pacemaker
Ian Paisley with Donald Trump. The North Antrim MP has supported the US president.
Ian Paisley and Ian jnr eating buns in the campaign trail in March 1982.
Ian Paisley at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena after retaining his seat in the 2015 general election
PACEMAKER BELFAST 15/04/98 Ian paisley junior left pictured with his father during the Drumcree stand off in 1996
Ian Paisley MP at a Remembrance Day commemoration in Kenya
Pacemaker Belfast - Archive Ian Paisley Jnr with "Justice for the UDR Four " at his Ravenhill office. 19-12-90 1053-90-BWC
Ian with Arlene Foster after she was made DUP party leader
9 / 6 / 17 PACEMAKER PRESS Ian Paisley Jr celebrates with his son Matthew and wife Fiona after winning his seat for North Antrim in the UK Parliamentary Elections. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER PRESS
Ian Paisley Jnr, whose father founded the DUP in 1971, says, 'everybody hates us but we've got the cash' [Photo: Marc McKormick, www.independent.co.uk]
PACEMAKER BELFAST 26/06/98 "Brothers in Arms" DUP leader Ian paisley and son Ian jnr pictured at the Ballymoney count after both were elected. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON/PACEMAKER PRESS
PACEMAKER BELFAST. Ian Paisley and Ian Junior in Studio. 16/8/94. 704/94/bwc
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 14/1/2011: Ian Paisley Junior pictured at the Adelaide Racer awards at the Ramada hotel PICTURE BY CHARLES MCQUILLAN
Paisley with Miss North West 200 Jillian Frew
3/5/2010. PACEMAKER BELFAST. IAN PAISLEY JR POSES FOR THE OFFICIAL ELECTION ARTIST, SIMON ROBERTS WHILST CANVESSING IN THE COUNTRYSIDE OUTSIDE BALLYMENA THIS AFTERNOON. PICTURE CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER.
Pacemaker Press Belfast 22-03-2013: Ian Richard Kyle Paisley, Jr, MP is the Member of Parliament for North Antrim and member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the Democratic Unionist Party and an author. He is the son of the DUP's founder and former leader, Ian Paisley. Picture By: Arthur Allison.
Ian Paisley Jr met Amari Wijewardene, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, in Parliament to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 11/7/2018: North Antrim MP, Ian Paisley at motorcycle racer William Dunlop's funeral at Garryduff Presbyterian church outside Ballymoney. Dunlop was killed in a crash during practice for the Skerries 100. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER BELFAST 20/04/2017 Ian Paisley speaks to the Irish Times at Stormont Hotel in Belfast, about his father. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
Ian discusses the legacy of his father Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
Ian Paisley
Pacemaker Belfast 18-06-2007: Junior Minister Ian Paisley Junior pictured at photocall at Stormont where ministers were encouraging people to cycle to work.
PACEMAKER BELFAST. Copy pics from the book about the early years of the life of Ian Paisley. 13/8/86. 1197/86/bw
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 8/5/2015:DUP's Ian Paisley celebrates his victory in the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena . PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
A picture posted by Ian Paisley (right) of Arron Banks (second left), Sammy Wilson (second right) and Leave.EU campaigner Andy Wigmore
Pacemaker press 21/4/15 The Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian paisley Junior launches election manifesto at Wrightbus in Co Antrim. Picture Mark Marlow/pacemaker press
Paisley with Melania Trump
Ian Paisley Junior
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 8/5/2015:DUP's Ian Paisley celebrates his victory in the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena . PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
DUP's Ian Paisley celebrates victory in the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena in the May 2015 General Election. Picture Stephen Davison Pacemaker 8/5/2015.
PACEMAKER BELFAST. Ian Paisley and Ian Jnr.
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 8/5/2015: DUP's Ian Paisley celebrates his victory in the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena by singing the National Anthem. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 8/5/2015: Ian Paisley arrives at the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena with his wife, Fiona. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
9 / 6 / 17 PACEMAKER PRESS Ian Paisley Jr celebrates winning his seat for North Antrim in the UK Parlimentary Elections. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER PRESS
3/5/2010. PACEMAKER BELFAST. IAN PAISLEY JR AND IAN PAISLEY SR IN HARRYVILLE, BALLYMENA. PICTURE CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER.
Pacemaker Press 8/5/2017 DUP's Ian Paisley Jnr during the Launch of the DUP's General election campaign launch at the Castlereigh Hills Golf in East Belfast on Monday, ahead of the election on the 8th of June. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 8/5/2015:DUP's Ian Paisley celebrates his victory in the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena . PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
Pacemaker Press: 22th December 2017: Ian Paisley Jr pictured with his new and old Passport Picture By: Arthur Allison.
Ian Paisley
Pacemaker Press Belfast 31-03-2014: Launch of North-West 200 road races at Titanic Belfast . Pictured at the launch Ian Paisley, Jr. and Arlene Foster, MLA Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. PICTURE BY: STEPHEN DAVISON
Pacemaker Press Belfast 31-03-2014: Launch of North-West 200 road races at Titanic Belfast .Pictured at the launch Ian Paisley, Jr. and Arlene Foster, MLA Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. PICTURE BY: STEPHEN DAVISON
9 / 6 / 17 PACEMAKER PRESS Ian Paisley Jr celebrates winning his seat for North Antrim in the UK Parlimentary Elections. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER PRESS

Sinn Fein is aware of this: but a by-election keeps a very hot, very embarrassing light on Paisley and the DUP for the next three months.

That's probably enough for Sinn Fein at this point.

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