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Ian Paisley certain to weather the storm in North Antrim's staunch DUP country



The DUP’s Ian Paisley

The DUP’s Ian Paisley

The DUP’s Ian Paisley

The North Antrim constituency is undoubtedly Paisley country, through and through.

In the 2017 General Election Ian Paisley secured almost 29,000 votes in the staunchly unionist stronghold that his late father and namesake also held, which takes in the districts of Ballymena, Ballymoney and the Moyle wards.

Mr Paisley's nearest competitor that time around was Sinn Fein's Cara McShane, who came in with 7,878 votes.

But that was before Mr Paisley's Sri Lankan scandal. Last year he was suspended from Parliament for 30 sitting days after he failed to declare two family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

He faced the public in a recall petition, which fell some 400 signatures short to secure a by-election. He kept his seat and apologised in the House of Commons, admitting "deep personal embarrassment" and claiming he had made a "genuine mistake".

It is likely that Mr Paisley will keep his seat comfortably again, but many think his constituents may give him a slap on the wrist, just not a big enough one to dislodge him from his seat.

He will be joined on the ballot paper by the SDLP's Margaret McKillop, Sinn Fein's Cara McShane, Alliance's Patricia O'Lynn, Independent Stephen Palmer and former Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann.

North Antrim reported the highest pro-Brexit vote in Northern Ireland. People want it to happen.

People are angry about jobs, with the Gallagher's factory and the Michelin plant closures hitting the area hard, and Wrights brought to the brink before salvation.

The economy is a big talking point at the doors, as is immigration. The area's thriving food production industry has seen an influx of foreign nationals to the area, an issue not everyone is happy about.

And on the streets, Stormont is the word on everyone's lips. Anne-Marie McKillop says people are frustrated.

"Considering that they aren't even sitting in Stormont, what good are politicians from Ballymena going to do in Westminster?" she asked.

Rebecca McCrystal said she is fed up with the stalemate.

"I am so disgusted I'm not voting and neither is my husband," she said. "I am sick to my stomach with the Stormont malarkey because it's affecting me personally waiting for health appointments. I've just lost heart."

Dave Reid said he is not voting either, and added: "It's the same old, same old thing here. Voting is a waste of time. I've completely lost all hope in politics."

But not everyone has lost hope. Eugene Reid is vice-president of Ballymena Chamber of Commerce and Industry and also an SDLP councillor. He said that as long as the business heart of the community is healthy, the town will continue to thrive.

On Ballymena High Street there is no sign an election is looming. Christmas lights and festive decorations are all that hang from the lamp posts.

"There is a buzz about the town at the moment," said Eugene. "The town is looking well, the public realm scheme worked really well and there is a sense that we are in a better place now.

"But there is a sense that if the people 'up on the Hill' were doing more we would be in a better place. The general public think politicians are not doing enough.

"I believe that business is important. If the heart of the place - as in the town - is healthy, the rest of the community that flow from it will be healthy too.

"The only way forward is to make this place work, for all its citizens. North Antrim people have always shown resilience, and have worked through whatever has been thrown at them."

Dessie Blackadder is the editor of the local paper, the Ballymena Guardian. He said there is a growing contempt for politicians.

"People here seem to be very angry," he said. "They are angry about the whole political process.

"I think in the past few years, certainly for Ian Paisley Jnr, it hasn't been a term where there has been glory all the way. He has been publicly called to account several times by the House of Commons. I think probably the biggest story at the end of this election will be if he has managed to hold on to his vote or has he dropped his numbers.

"If you have talked to people on the ground, as I have, there is an overall distancing of people from the politics of years ago where there was a vote which went to the DUP, or the UUP. There's almost a wave of contempt towards politicians and the role that they play."

But Dessie added that he thinks there will be no dramatic change in North Antrim this time around.

"I can't see Ian Paisley being dislodged from his seat," he said. "I think it's fair to say that the DUP will remain strong.

"I think the DUP will be well ahead with a healthy majority at the end of this.

"It might not be the majority it was before, but I'd be amazed if anything was done to unseat him. There is no one who will get anywhere near him."

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