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Constituency Profile: North Antrim

By Noel McAdam

North Antrim remains the cockpit contest for unionism, even without former First Minister Ian Paisley.

His son, Ian Junior, as much as anyone in the DUP exemplifies its new progressive, modernising party, while his father and most of his support base came from the more fundamentalist wing.

Some of that core will be siphoned off by Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister and the key to the result will be how many moderates and modernisers Ian Jnr can attract, particularly with an exemplar Ulster Unionist and Conservative candidate, Irwin Armstrong, also in the field.

But wasn't North Antrim meant to be the David Vs Goliath contest of this election?

Maybe, but not now that the Goliath of Ulster politics, Ian Paisley, has quit the battlefield, leaving his namesake son to defend the constituency.

Symbolically, however, North Antrim still remains the DUP citadel and if Jim Allister was to topple Ian Jnr it would precipitate an unprecedented crisis in the party and potentially cost Peter Robinson his leadership.

So, can Jim win the day ?

He has an electoral mountain to climb. Most commentators conclude an outright win in a first-past-the-post election system with an Ian Paisley on the ballot paper is a virtual impossibility.

Few though could entirely rule the Traditional Unionist Voice leader out. Allister overturned political orthodoxy with his astonishing performance in last year's European Parliament election, where he lost his seat but gained 66,200 first preference votes.

What are the mathematics then?

The former First Minister and DUP leader, who ended his 40-year dominance in politics as chief ‘Chuckle Brother' with Martin McGuinness, consistently produced the DUP's best performance in Westminster elections, with around 50% of the vote.

In 2005, he was almost 19,000 votes ahead of Ulster Unionist Rodney McCune.

So Ian Jnr is home in a vote?

Though the DUP majority may take a dent, he should be. Yet, the TUV argues the level of its support last summer will galvanise other disaffected unionists to come out for Allister. This is also the constituency where he lives and is best known.

And there's another unionist in the field?

Retired Ballymena solicitor Lyle Cubitt takes an even harder line against the current Stormont set-up than the TUV.

And the nominations are:

Jim Allister — TUV

Irwin Armstrong — Conservatives and Unionists

Lyle Cubitt — Independent

Jayne Dunlop — Alliance Party

Daithi McKay — Sinn Fein

Declan O'Loan — Social Democratic & Labour Party

Ian Paisley — DUP

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