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Suzanne Breen: If rivals serious about unseating DUP's man, unity candidate wrong way to do it

By Suzanne Breen ·

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Ian Paisley

The SDLP's proposal that an anti-Brexit candidate stand against Ian Paisley in a by-election is one of the most foolish ideas that could be put on the table.

If the party is serious about unseating the DUP MP, this is totally the wrong way to go about it.

North Antrim is not a pro-Remain constituency. It voted to leave the EU by a significant majority - 65%.

More importantly, as TUV leader Jim Allister noted, any anti-Brexit unity candidate plays right into the hands of the sitting MP.

"It's probably the best news Ian Paisley has heard in what must be a very dark week for him," Mr Allister said.

"He would love to turn this election (if there is one) away from what it's about, namely sleaze, to Brexit in a constituency that's overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit.

"It's a gift to Ian Paisley if this election is diverted from sleaze to Brexit."

A unity pro-Remain candidate would rally the unionist troops behind the DUP man in much the same way a unity anti-Sinn Fein candidate would have done in May's West Tyrone by-election.

Mr Paisley has a massive majority. He was returned with a whopping 59% of the poll in the last Westminster election. His 28,500 votes gave him a majority of more than 20,000 over the Sinn Fein runner-up.

Loyalty to the Paisley brand runs deep in North Antrim. Still, he surely has been damaged by his failure to declare two luxury holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government. The big question is, by how much?

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The Paisley family at home in 1988. From left to right Ian Junior, Cherith, Rhonda, Kyle. Pic Pacemaker

Amnesty International has said the focus shouldn't be on Mr Paisley's failure to fill in the paperwork about his holidays.

It's what he was doing hob-nobbing with the Sri Lankan regime in the first place, and why he was attempting to have the British government oppose a UN investigation into the horrific war crimes committed on the island.

In reality, such global concerns are unlikely to fire up North Antrim voters.

But some will be angered that their MP is on holidays valued at up to £100,000 while they struggle to make ends meet.

One former Protestant worker at the JTI Gallaher tobacco factory remarked that just one of Mr Paisley's holidays was worth more than his entire redundancy payment.

Such voters will either switch to another unionist candidate or stay at home.

Mr Allister seems a cert to run in any by-election.

It would be an opportunity for him to take on the DUP MP at his weakest.

The odds overwhelmingly still favour Mr Paisley.

The TUV's best result in recent years is securing 18% vote with the DUP's worst 41% .

So, even allowing for some drift from the outgoing MP, Mr Allister would still have a mountain to climb.

So, even allowing for some drift from the outgoing MP, Mr Allister would still have a mountain to climb.

Yet it would be a fascinating contest and one the TUV leader would undoubtedly relish.

Expect Mr Paisley to do his utmost to re-invent himself over the summer and put the Sri Lankan holidays scandal behind him.

But if anything further emerges about him in the media, we will be in uncharted territory.

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Ian Paisley
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The Paisley family at home in 1988. From left to right Ian Junior, Cherith, Rhonda, Kyle. Pic Pacemaker
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Ian Paisley hurdles a fence during canvassing for 2010 election. Pic Charles McQuillan Pacemaker
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Ian Paisley with Donald Trump. The North Antrim MP has supported the US president.
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Ian Paisley and Ian jnr eating buns in the campaign trail in March 1982.
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Ian Paisley at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena after retaining his seat in the 2015 general election
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PACEMAKER BELFAST 15/04/98 Ian paisley junior left pictured with his father during the Drumcree stand off in 1996
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Ian Paisley MP at a Remembrance Day commemoration in Kenya
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Pacemaker Belfast - Archive Ian Paisley Jnr with 'Justice for the UDR Four ' at his Ravenhill office. 19-12-90 1053-90-BWC
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Ian with Arlene Foster after she was made DUP party leader
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9 / 6 / 17 PACEMAKER PRESS Ian Paisley Jr celebrates with his son Matthew and wife Fiona after winning his seat for North Antrim in the UK Parliamentary Elections. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER PRESS
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Ian Paisley Jnr, whose father founded the DUP in 1971, says, 'everybody hates us but we've got the cash' [Photo: Marc McKormick, www.independent.co.uk]
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PACEMAKER BELFAST 26/06/98 'Brothers in Arms' DUP leader Ian paisley and son Ian jnr pictured at the Ballymoney count after both were elected. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON/PACEMAKER PRESS
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PACEMAKER BELFAST. Ian Paisley and Ian Junior in Studio. 16/8/94. 704/94/bwc
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PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 14/1/2011: Ian Paisley Junior pictured at the Adelaide Racer awards at the Ramada hotel PICTURE BY CHARLES MCQUILLAN
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Paisley with Miss North West 200 Jillian Frew
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3/5/2010. PACEMAKER BELFAST. IAN PAISLEY JR POSES FOR THE OFFICIAL ELECTION ARTIST, SIMON ROBERTS WHILST CANVESSING IN THE COUNTRYSIDE OUTSIDE BALLYMENA THIS AFTERNOON. PICTURE CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER.
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Pacemaker Press Belfast 22-03-2013: Ian Richard Kyle Paisley, Jr, MP is the Member of Parliament for North Antrim and member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the Democratic Unionist Party and an author. He is the son of the DUP's founder and former leader, Ian Paisley. Picture By: Arthur Allison.
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Ian Paisley Jr met Amari Wijewardene, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, in Parliament to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal
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PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 11/7/2018: North Antrim MP, Ian Paisley at motorcycle racer William Dunlop's funeral at Garryduff Presbyterian church outside Ballymoney. Dunlop was killed in a crash during practice for the Skerries 100. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
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PACEMAKER BELFAST 20/04/2017 Ian Paisley speaks to the Irish Times at Stormont Hotel in Belfast, about his father. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
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Ian discusses the legacy of his father Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
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Ian Paisley
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Pacemaker Belfast 18-06-2007: Junior Minister Ian Paisley Junior pictured at photocall at Stormont where ministers were encouraging people to cycle to work.
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PACEMAKER BELFAST. Copy pics from the book about the early years of the life of Ian Paisley. 13/8/86. 1197/86/bw
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PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 8/5/2015:DUP's Ian Paisley celebrates his victory in the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena . PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
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A picture posted by Ian Paisley (right) of Arron Banks (second left), Sammy Wilson (second right) and Leave.EU campaigner Andy Wigmore
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Pacemaker press 21/4/15 The Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian paisley Junior launches election manifesto at Wrightbus in Co Antrim. Picture Mark Marlow/pacemaker press
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Paisley with Melania Trump
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Ian Paisley Junior
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PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 8/5/2015:DUP's Ian Paisley celebrates his victory in the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena . PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
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DUP's Ian Paisley celebrates victory in the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena in the May 2015 General Election. Picture Stephen Davison Pacemaker 8/5/2015.
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PACEMAKER BELFAST. Ian Paisley and Ian Jnr.
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PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 8/5/2015: DUP's Ian Paisley celebrates his victory in the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena by singing the National Anthem. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
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PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 8/5/2015: Ian Paisley arrives at the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena with his wife, Fiona. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
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9 / 6 / 17 PACEMAKER PRESS Ian Paisley Jr celebrates winning his seat for North Antrim in the UK Parlimentary Elections. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER PRESS
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3/5/2010. PACEMAKER BELFAST. IAN PAISLEY JR AND IAN PAISLEY SR IN HARRYVILLE, BALLYMENA. PICTURE CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER.
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Pacemaker Press 8/5/2017 DUP's Ian Paisley Jnr during the Launch of the DUP's General election campaign launch at the Castlereigh Hills Golf in East Belfast on Monday, ahead of the election on the 8th of June. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
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PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 8/5/2015:DUP's Ian Paisley celebrates his victory in the North Antrim constituency count in Ballymena . PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
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Pacemaker Press: 22th December 2017: Ian Paisley Jr pictured with his new and old Passport Picture By: Arthur Allison.
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Ian Paisley
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Pacemaker Press Belfast 31-03-2014: Launch of North-West 200 road races at Titanic Belfast . Pictured at the launch Ian Paisley, Jr. and Arlene Foster, MLA Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. PICTURE BY: STEPHEN DAVISON
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Pacemaker Press Belfast 31-03-2014: Launch of North-West 200 road races at Titanic Belfast .Pictured at the launch Ian Paisley, Jr. and Arlene Foster, MLA Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. PICTURE BY: STEPHEN DAVISON
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9 / 6 / 17 PACEMAKER PRESS Ian Paisley Jr celebrates winning his seat for North Antrim in the UK Parlimentary Elections. PICTURE MATT BOHILL PACEMAKER PRESS