Belfast Telegraph

Ian Paisley: Hard worker or disgrace to unionism... Ballymena split over under-fire MP

By Suzanne Breen

As the petition of recall opened in North Antrim yesterday, shoppers in Ballymena town centre were deeply divided on Ian Paisley.

Some were angry with their MP over the Sri Lanka holiday scandal, but it wasn't a make-or-break issue for others, who believed he served his constituents well.

"I think Ian Paisley should be forgiven," said Jean Fullerton.

"We all do things that are wrong and he has apologised. That should be enough.

"He's been very good for Ballymena. He always stands up for local people, Catholic and Protestant. Your religion doesn't matter to him."

But Billy Donaldson from Ballymoney was scathing about the politician and believed he was a disgrace to unionism.

"Our Government gives millions of pounds every year in humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka to help the country's poor people.

"Then we have Ian Paisley jetting off on free luxury holidays. I find it all sickening. There aren't many people around here who have holidays like that. I saved for five years to take my wee granddaughter to Florida."

Mr Dondalson said it wasn't the first time Mr Paisley had been in the headlines, and referred to his links with property developer Seymour Sweeney.

"I don't buy all this stuff about how hard-working an MP he is. I'm a loyalist, and I've no time for him," he added.

Margaret Kilpatrick from Ballymena was prepared to support Mr Paisley because he was "a good MP" and his father had been kind to her family.

"More politicians than him take free holidays, he just got caught," she said. "My son Justin was very ill in hospital in Belfast 11 years ago. Dr Paisley sent a car down to the Royal to take myself and other family members to his home.

"We had tea with him and Eileen and Rhonda. It was a lovely personal touch, which we appreciated so much."

One woman, who didn't wish to be named, said she was totally disillusioned with Mr Paisley. "My husband lost his job in Michelin after 30 years and it's very tough for us. I know what we're going through and then I see Ian Paisley jnr jetting off on £100,000 holidays and it makes me angry," she said.

"The closures of Gallahers and Michelin have really hurt this town. There isn't the money there once was, and that affects small businesses as well."

However, Neil Nixon thought Mr Paisley's critics were "making a song and dance" about his luxury holidays. "These trips were five years ago, so all this fuss is rubbish. He's a good MP and I think he's all right," Mr Nixon said.

Another woman, who also didn't want to be named, backed the MP. "I used to work with Ian and always found him to be straight and open. I feel sorry for him, as I'm sure he's not the only politician to have taken a free holiday," she said.

A man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he hoped Mr Paisley would remain as MP. "As a nationalist, I say keep him on as long as possible. It works far better for us than having somebody elected with a bit of wit."

Martina Fyfe also wanted Mr Paisley to survive, but for different reasons. "I don't really know if he did wrong or not, but he's been very good to people I know. If DLA is taken off somebody, he's great at getting it back."

Staff in Mr Paisley's advice centre in Church Street wouldn't comment when the Belfast Telegraph called in yesterday, but they reported being "as busy as ever".

Belfast Telegraph

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