Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: It's depressing for Sinn Fein, but Paisley's unionist rivals missed out by failing to engage electorate in petition of recall

Ian Paisley at work at his desk
Ian Paisley at work at his desk
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The eating of humble pie ended with the petition of recall defeat. Ian Paisley was soon back to his bold, brash self after the result which meant he wouldn't have to face a by-election.

His Twitter account profile was swiftly changed: "Freeman, City of London. M.P. for North Antrim DUP 2010-15, 15-17 & 17- present returned with highest recorded vote in NI. 90.6% support from recall petition."

He told the BBC that those 90.6% cent were saying, "We are keeping you, big fella, we like you". He added: "I can't help the reasons why I am in the news....I could be a shrinking violet...I am not prepared to do that."

In the eyes of his political critics, Mr Paisley will be insufferable now. To his supporters, there is every reason for the bravado and it's why they love him.

Despite the outrage across the political divide and the wall-to-wall media coverage, only 9.4% of the North Antrim electorate were bothered enough to go out and sign the petition to unseat Mr Paisley. It is an exaggeration to say that everyone who stayed at home supports the MP. But he clearly remains immensely popular in the constituency regardless of what luxury foreign holidays he takes or the human rights abuse allegations facing the government paying for them.

The plain people of North Antrim like him and didn't care too much about what parliamentary rules he broke.

Mr Paisley was swiftly welcomed back to the bosom of the DUP with the party issuing a statement saying his suspension had been lifted. Only the naïve would believe such a move would have happened had the petition gone the other way.

Despite rumours that the party may have selected MLA Paul Frew, DUP sources insist Mr Paisley would still have been the party's candidate in a by-election but penalties would have been imposed on him before he returned to the fold.

Arlene Foster will breathe a huge sigh of relief that a North Antrim by-election has been avoided. It's the only good bit of news her party has received in recent months. The unionist electorate proved to be relatively nonplussed about the allegations against Mr Paisley.

The DUP may now hope that despite some initial displeasure, they will be equally switched off regarding the claims facing her party at the ongoing RHI Inquiry.

When the North Antrim MP was suspended by the House of Commons, some pontificated that he would be "chastened" by the experience and be easier for his party leadership to handle in future. The failure of the petition of concern makes that an unlikely prospect. Mr Paisley has effectively received a resounding endorsement from his voters and he won't be shy about letting the DUP upper echelons know that over time.

There has been criticism of the Electoral Office for opening only three polling stations for the petition of recall.

But the reality is that only Sinn Fein put any effort into campaigning against Mr Paisley.

The party's North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan worked tirelessly during the six weeks but the other parties registered to campaign didn't match his efforts.

Although their leaders personally signed the petition, the TUV and the UUP didn't register and just sat back and watched. If they wanted it to succeed, they needed to get out and knock doors.

The parties may have believed that Sinn Fein would successfully do the heavy lifting on this one.

They clearly feared they would be 'contaminated' in the eyes of their own electorate if they joined in. They have paid the price for that decision. Mr Paisley's position in the constituency has been greatly strengthened.

His unionist opponents have missed out on the chance of a by-election which would have been turned into a referendum on sleaze. The failure to topple the MP is very depressing news for Sinn Fein, but even more so for the DUP's unionist rivals.

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
Ian Paisley junior left pictured with his father during the Drumcree stand off in 1996. PACEMAKER BELFAST 15/04/98
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]
Ian Paisley with his late father. Credit: Stephen Davidson/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

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