Belfast Telegraph

Jim Flanagan: Politically damaging, but Paisley dynasty will survive

By Jim Flanagan

The fall-out from the Sri Lankan holiday affair is self-evidently a major personal embarrassment for North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, but one he is likely to get over in due course.

Given his political standing in North Antrim - his General Election majority last year was actually bigger than anything his father ever achieved - there is absolutely no chance of him falling on his sword or of the DUP deserting him. As editor of the Ballymena Guardian until last Christmas, I had the opportunity to observe the 'Paisley X Factor' phenomenon in the area over many years. At grassroots constituency level, there are literally hundreds of volunteers willing to put their shoulder to the wheel, such is their devotion to the Paisley family name.

It is a dynasty that will not be easily dismantled, notwithstanding the immediate political damage caused by the serious errors of judgment Mr Paisley owned up to and the 'profound' apology issued to his constituents yesterday.

That damage is likely to include a by-election, as it seems the 7,500 or so signatures required to force one will be easily obtained.

And a subsequent election campaign would focus sharply on the Sri Lankan issues and Mr Paisley's personal credibility.

While the DUP may sanction Mr Paisley in the short term for his self-confessed' failings, I believe that would be as far as it goes.

The party would come out all guns blazing in an election campaign, mobilising the 'Paisleyite' army right across the constituency.

His insatiable appetite for hard work on the ground will work in his favour - his Church Street constituency office handles around 1,000 queries a week. He was also instrumental in persuading JTI to set up a £5m legacy fund to stimulate economic activity in the Ballymena area. Mr Paisley will chair the Gallaher Trust, due to be officially launched in September, bringing real tangible benefits to the area and it's this type of affirmative action that will mitigate against his serious errors of judgment.

When the dust settles, I expect he will remain MP and the political capital amassed by the Paisley dynasty in North Antrim over almost 50 years will remain intact, if somewhat tarnished and severely embarrassed by these events.

Jim Flanagan is former editor of the Ballymena Guardian

Belfast Telegraph

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