Suzanne Breen: TUV and UUP assisted MP Paisley in retaining seat
Relief for Paisley and DUP as by-election avoided
Ian Paisley and the DUP will have breathed a collective sigh of relief as the petition of recall failed.
The last thing that either the politician or the party wanted was to have to fight a by-election.
While the North Antrim MP was odds-on favourite to have retained his seat in any new poll, details of his two undeclared luxury holidays would have been played over endlessly in the media during an election campaign.
Evidence at the RHI Inquiry is inflicting substantial damage on the DUP’s reputation. The party did not want to face the electorate with those details fresh in the public memory.
Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance were the only parties which registered to campaign during the recall petition, and only Sinn Fein had any consistent presence on the ground.
But the party did not even manage to get all its own vote out – 7,099 people signed the petition and 7,878 voted for Sinn Fein in last year’s Westminster election.
The failure of the TUV and Ulster Unionists to become involved in formally campaigning – despite their leaders supporting the recall petition – assisted Mr Paisley enormously.
The MP’s undoubted popularity in the constituency has also helped. The vast majority of his constituents were either supportive of him despite the undeclared holidays, or certainly not angry enough to vote to unseat him.
Expect stringent criticism today from Sinn Fein of the Electoral Office’s decision to open only three polling stations in the constituency.
Hours before polling closed Sinn Fein sources privately predicted there would only be a few hundred votes in it. That wasn’t a case of spinning in order to get the vote out. This was truly a case of knife-edge.
Mr Paisley remains suspended from the House of Commons and the DUP. His parliamentary ban ends in November, and expect the DUP suspension to be lifted after a respectable period. The party certainly won’t be getting rid of him now.
Mr Paisley held his seat by the skin of his teeth – a 10% vote was needed to topple him and only 9.4% was secured – but the margin won’t matter a jot to him. He will just be relieved it’s all over and he’s still there.
Like his father before him, Ian Paisley is proving to be the great survivor of Northern Ireland politics.
Belfast Telegraph Digital