Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

North Antrim: Angry Ian Paisley denies foreign holiday probe as he retains seat with ease

  • Eligible electorate: 77,134
  • Votes polled: 44,355
  • Valid votes: 44,051
  • Turnout: 57.5%
  • Majority: 12,721
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

While Ian Paisley’s support in North Antrim saw him enjoy a relatively comfortable election at the polls, his return as MP was overshadowed as he angrily denied a parliamentary investigation into foreign holidays.

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Mr Paisley’s majority was slashed by almost 8,000 votes, his overall vote falling from 28,521 in 2017 to 20,860, a drop of 11.5%, but that saw him remain almost 13,000 clear of nearest rival, the UUP’s Robin Swann.

Allegations had been made in June by BBC’s Spotlight programme over trips made to the Maldives, one of which it was claimed was paid for by a former Maldives government minister.

Earlier this week his party leader, Arlene Foster, had indicated a second investigation was currently underway by the parliamentary commissioner for standards.

Ian Paisley comfortably retained his seat (Niall Carson/PA)

Asked whether he was relieved that the controversy hadn’t backfired with the electorate, he said he would challenge any allegation head on.

“One thing has to be made very, very clear. The facts of the matter are that there is not an investigation going on as far as I’m aware,” said Mr Paisley.

“All investigation has ceased. Whatever happens now is up to the new parliament and I can face any of these things, as I always do, head on.”

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Challenged by the BBC, he said: “Your legal department, and don’t play the silly boy with me, you know the situation, your legal department has been involved in it, the BBC has been involved in it.

“If the BBC has anything to say about me, send it to parliament and say it. Don’t try and twist and get me to say it for you.”

Away from the controversy, Mr Paisley said his re-election was a vindication of the support he still holds in North Antrim.

The DUP's Ian Paisley (left) is returned as MP for North Antrim. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.

“I believe the electorate have seen things achieved for them. I ran a positive campaign. I’m very proud of my unionist identity. I’m very proud that Brexit can deliver good things for our country.

“I believe that my pro-life stance attracted people from across the community. I also think the hard work I’ve done on the ground, protecting industry, protecting jobs, has been very, very important.”

And he used his victory to plead for a return of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“At 80% of the doors I knocked on, we were sent a clear message. Why is Stormont not running?

“Please get it back to work. Whatever is happening there, sort it out. That message should not be lost on any politician across Northern Ireland.”

Mr Paisley also said the current health crisis should motivate politicians to action.

“As the father of a nurse, I know what it is to see nurses overworked and underpaid,” he said.

“I think those messages about our health workers have struck home to every single public representative. You would have to have a heart of stone if that did not strike it home to you."

By the time of the declaration, Ulster Unionist Robin Swann, who added almost 5,000 to his party’s vote in the absence of the TUV’s Jim Allister had already left, but not before issuing a warning of dark days ahead for Northern Ireland.

“It’s going to be hard for Northern Ireland. It’s going to be hard for us to get a foothold or even a voice because Boris is going to do what Boris wants to do,” the former UUP leader said.

“I can’t see his deal was ever going to be good for Northern Ireland. He’s got the majority to put in through. I honestly worry about where we finish up in the Union.”

Sinn Fein’s Cara McShane saw her vote fall by 3.5%, while Patricia O’Lynn increased the Alliance vote by 8.5%.

SDLP candidate Margaret Anne McKillop increased her vote by 1.4%.

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