Belfast Telegraph

People of Ballymena left feeling let down by latest Paisley controversy

Both anger and support as townsfolk tell Mark Bain MP must now explain himself

Victoria and Ryan Hutchinson with their dog Max
Victoria and Ryan Hutchinson with their dog Max
Karen Wright and her friend Natalie Smyth with son Cooper Carter in Ballymena yesterday
Anne McGall
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Look up to the sky and there's not a cloud to be seen. Sunshine streams down. Close your eyes and you could be in the Maldives.

The accents give the game away. This is Ballymena, Paisley country, a unionist heartland. North Antrim MP Ian Paisley isn't around today.

No, he's not in the Maldives; he's occupied at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Westminster. But he'll return home to controversy.

After riding out his previous indiscretion, a holiday in Sri Lanka not disclosed to the House of Commons, calmer waters seemed restored.

Exposed again, he's back in the spotlight due to trips to the Maldives, and will return to a political temperature as hot as the Indian Ocean paradise.

What's hurting people most is the lack of transparency.

Siblings Ryan and Victoria Hutchinson shook their heads.

"Sadly, it's what we've come to expect from politicians," said Ryan. "They get their money, they get their freebies. He looks stupid."

Victoria now wants to see Mr Paisley step forward and tell the whole story. "While I'm not sticking up for Ian, maybe we need to look into every politician," she said.

"I suspect there's a lot more going on that has been made public.

"I have to say, Ian did help us a few years ago, but he needs to come out and say something.

"There are apologies to make. He's let us down."

There's a shift in the mood.

Mr and Mrs Eagleson are Ballymena born and bred. "The DUP should say 'enough is enough', stand up and do the right thing," said Mr Eagleson.

"If Ian prides himself on being a religious man, then he needs to tell the truth.

"There has to be some values. He will probably get back in if he has to, he has his father's name."

While not singling out Mr Paisley, Kay Donaghan said the way politicians have been behaving is "disgraceful".

"You suspect they're all the same, but if Ian has been caught out he should pay for it," she said.

"People are trying their best to scrape by. Politicians doing this sort of thing should be kicked to the kerb."

Whether it's a knee-jerk reaction that will ease over time, only a test at the polls will tell.

For now, the thought of lavish all-expenses paid holidays has rubbed the electorate up the wrong way.

Karen Wright's son Bo is disabled and she said she's been waiting nearly four years to get a wheelchair for him.

"I'm not getting any help," she said. "Before that I had to wait 17 years before getting a bungalow with the proper access for him.

"Why can't something be done for people like me? We don't care about the Maldives or Sri Lanka." Her friend Natalie Smyth also has a disabled son. "I'm fighting a battle every day to get some respite care," she said.

"These are the things I want my MP to be fighting for, not disappearing around the world."

At the end of the day, though, this is still Ballymena, and there's always significant support for a Paisley.

"If you want anything done you go to Ian," said Harry and Anne McGall. "We can't see him meaning to do anything underhand.

"Of course we'll support him. Who else is going to fight the corner for Ballymena and North Antrim?"

Two elderly women shake their heads and say: "It's very sad and we hope he has the intelligence to stand up and apologise. There's a lot of people feeling let down."

Ballymena Guardian editor Dessie Blackadder knows the lay of the land around the town better than most.

"Obviously this has put our MP right back in the spotlight," he said. "Social media will have fun, but at the end of the day it's up to the electorate to pronounce their verdict on Ian Paisley."

He's right, of course, and the Paisley name goes a long way. It's a rebuilding of trust that his supporters are now looking for.

Support is there, but people in Ballymena are beginning to expect it to be better earned.

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