Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Ian Paisley out to prove he doesn't need backing of party leaders

Photo Ian Paisley posted yesterday on Twitter at Ulster Grand Prix event
Photo Ian Paisley posted yesterday on Twitter at Ulster Grand Prix event
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Ian Paisley isn't the type of politician to go quietly into the night whatever the scandal or crisis facing him.

Within hours of petition of recall letters arriving in households across North Antrim yesterday, he tweeted two photographs of himself on motorbikes.

The first was at the launch party for Ireland's first indoor electric motocross track in Moira. That was followed by a picture of Paisley on a classic Norton at the Ulster Grand Prix vintage ride out.

It was a typical bold, brash move from the North Antrim MP which will draw dramatically different responses from critics and fans. One person's cheek is another's chutzpah.

But what the photos seem to suggest is that the eating of humble pie approach in Paisley's House of Commons speech last month is over. It's business as usual from now on for the son of the DUP founder.

The rally being organised next week by Causeway Coast and Glens councillor John Finlay in support of the MP is another sign of the fightback.

Finlay is a Paisley man through and through and very much on the party's fundamentalist wing. In June he accused Arlene Foster of "flouting the Lord's Day" due to her presence at the Ulster GAA Final - so he's not scared to make his voice heard.

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Other DUP councillors also threw their weight behind the MP when contacted by the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, although some wouldn't comment on whether they'd attend the rally, and others said they'd be away.

There was silence from DUP headquarters on whether party representatives attending the meeting would face sanction, but it is highly unlikely they would.

Given the strength of the Paisley brand in North Antrim, any councillors punished would surely fancy their chances as independents in next year's local government elections.

The big question will be whether local DUP MLAs Meryvn Storey and Paul Frew attend the rally, or if they'll find themselves with other engagements that night.

With a petition of recall viewed by most political observers as likely to succeed, next Monday's event is effectively Paisley rallying the troops around him for an autumn election.

If he has a strong team on the ground, he doesn't need voices of support from the DUP leadership. In North Antrim the Paisley name carries a lot more weight than that of Foster or Dodds.

The DUP top brass believe, with justification, that Paisley's Sri Lankan holiday scandal has harmed the party with its base outside of his home turf.

But given the MP's popularity in the constituency, he's still in the driving seat for now.

Belfast Telegraph


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