Paisley's son fights claims he has sold out

David McKittrick reports on Ian Paisley Jnr's attempts to inherit his father's North Antrim constituency

All politics is local, but when your name is Ian Paisley Jnr and you're canvassing around Ballymena it simply doesn't get any more local than that. "I know your father well – how is he?" one smiling lady said. "I knew Margaret, your father's sister," said another. A third beamed: "We know your uncle very well: how is Harold?"

Broughshane, on the outskirts of Ballymena, is Paisley territory. The Rev Ian Paisley, as North Antrim MP for four full decades, has been the greatest vote-getter Northern Ireland has known. Now his son is attempting a dynastic succession by replacing him as the local MP. Since Paisley Jnr has himself been prominent locally for 14 years, he starts off with the ultimate in name, and face, recognition.

He only bothers to introduce himself a few times. With most people he simply flashes a winning smile, asks for votes, and indulges in good-natured banter. One elderly man assured him of his support saying, "I've been voting Paisley for 40 years." Another woman said: "Oh, I've been putting the X in the right spot for years."

When he asked a cheerful woman walking her dog if he could count on her vote she laughed and said, "Well, your daddy did and I don't see any reason why you shouldn't."

Paisley Jnr is working hard to perpetuate his father's legendary reputation for diligent constituency work: his local Democratic Unionist Party office, he said proudly, handled 18,000 queries in the past year. His assertion that votes come from political services was confirmed by a woman who told him: "You'll be getting my vote because my son was at the wee nursery that closed down and you got him into another one." Out in the wider political world he can – like his father – be caustic and combative. But during a two-hour canvass in Broughshane, a quietly affluent village, there were no tense or bitter exchanges on the doorsteps.

While the Paisley name still has immense political capital in Broughshane, Junior faces problems which Senior never did. There have been financial, sexual and other scandals which have touched the DUP and some of its leading members, including Paisley Jnr himself.

Then there is his problem of Paisley Snr's extraordinarily abrupt political change of heart. Following a lifetime of denunciation of republicanism and partnership, the 84-year-old patriarch went into government with Sinn Fein. Indeed he struck up such an affable relationship with the one-time IRA commander Martin McGuinness that the two became known as "the Chuckle Brothers".

None of this might matter too much in this unionist bastion were it not for his opponent: Jim Allister was once a senior DUP figure and MEP who resigned in protest from the party against the power-sharing deal and founded his own party, Traditional Unionist Voice.

Allister is adept at characterising the party's change of course as a sell-out. He rattled the DUP with a strong vote in a European election last year and is an effective TV critic of the party. According to Paisley Jnr: "His mission seems to be to destroy everything to do with Paisley."

Yesterday Allister went to court to try and prevent Paisley from distributing an election leaflet which he claimed was defamatory of him. It is an unwelcome distraction for his opponent who is having to re-brand himself to deal with Allister's challenge.

Today Paisley Jnr strikes a more soothing note. "My opponents have a grim message – that we should be depressed, that we're losing as unionists. But unionism should be confident," he insisted.

"There's a generational issue. Some people haven't got over the fact that the Troubles are over. They have to realise that the battles of tomorrow are different from those of yesterday."

Speaking of Northern Ireland's power-sharing accommodation, in which the DUP and Sinn Fein work together, he maintained: "Difficult decisions had to be taken. It's a matter now of selling that message better and telling people of the advances that have been made. The only way to get things done is working with people."

Was there a specific moment when he personally concluded that the Troubles were over? "Yes. The Rubicon was when Sinn Fein agreed to support the police. I grew up in a country where republicans took the view that it was legitimate to kill the police. As soon as republicans accepted the crown forces of the state – for me that was the telling moment."

Pointing at a skateboarding youngster negotiating a Broughshane hillock, he said: "Ten years ago, that wee lad didn't have a future. Now he's growing up in a very different Northern Ireland."

Paisley Snr is also striking a softer, gentler note. In his recent farewell speech in the Commons, he said: "Calm and peace is slowly but surely being established. We are making progress in the right direction."

Last year Paisley Jnr ran into trouble after allegations were made concerning him and a developer, Seymour Sweeney. He stepped down from a junior ministerial post in the Belfast Assembly but was later cleared of any wrongdoing. In 2007 Sinn Fein accused him of "dangerous homophobia" after he was reported to have told an Irish magazine: "I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong."

But the Democratic Unionist Party has had to cope with waves of bad publicity. First the Commons expenses of its leader, Peter Robinson, and his MP wife, Iris, were of such magnitude that they attracted the nickname of Swish Family Robinson. Then the Iris affair arrived, almost sweeping Peter from office as party leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland, when it emerged she had had an affair with a teenager. Her financial dealings are under police investigation.

The DUP is Northern Ireland's largest party, holding nine of the province's 18 Commons seats. Its support has steadily climbed in recent years, but what has been summarised as the "Iris virus" looked set to deliver heavy electoral punishment.

For various reasons, this election in Northern Ireland is unusually unpredictable, but the sense now is that the DUP is by no means facing meltdown. Certainly Paisley Jnr is favourite to hold North Antrim.

Paisley Jnr predicted the party would not lose seats but conceded that its vote would be down. He added: "I think we won't get as big a loss as some people are hoping for."

Does Paisley Jnr get asked about the Seymour Sweeney controversy? "More in banter," he replied. "I know Jim Allister is trying to make it a big deal – that's to disguise the fact that he doesn't have any policies or plans."

Allister has no kind words for his former party leader. "The Chuckle Brothers is the abiding legacy of Ian Paisley Snr," he declared. "Putting terrorists in government – that obviously rankles with his constituents."

What do his voters say about Paisley Snr? "You hear comments that he sold us out, he betrayed us, he brought terrorists into government." And what do Allister supporters say about Martin McGuinness? "They call him a murderer, they call him terrorist."

The irony is that the Allister rhetoric of today is uncannily similar to the Paisley rhetoric of old. The DUP has moved on but the Allister tendency remains unreconstructed.

North Antrim is thus a key battleground in which modern pragmatism is pitted against the traditional hardline – the Paisleyism of today vs the Paisleyism of yesteryear.

North Antrim: Result in 2005

DUP Ian Paisley, 25,156, 54.8 per cent

Sinn Fein Philip McGuigan, 7,191, 15.7 per cent

UUP Rodney McCune, 6,637, 14.5 per cent

SDLP Sean Farren, 5,585, 12.2 per cent

Alliance Jayne Dunlop, 1,357, 3.0 per cent

Highlights of the day

Pin-up of the day

Mrs Clegg may have complained about the focus on leaders' wives during the campaign. But it seems Miriam Gonzalez Durantez is not opposed to all types of publicity: "I like to be called clever. Sexy, yes, too: they can continue saying those things," she assures us.

Bad-taste joke of the day

Tim Montgomerie, founder of the blogging site ConservativeHome, is indulging in some "light relief", tweeting a joke starring Gordon Brown. The gag imagines the Prime Minister's death in Israel and argues for his burial there on the grounds that it would save money. But, it warns, "we just can't take the risk" that, like Jesus, Brown might be resurrected in the Holy Land. Maybe you had to be there.

Rumbled politician of the day

"Call-me-Dave" Cameron, for whom Peter Tatchell threw a "Coming Out Street Party" last week, went on BBC London to reassure worried listeners. Gay equality is "absolutely a bedrock part of the modern Conservatives", he assured us. Or at least he tried to, until a helpful caller reminded him that he twice voted against gay adoption and voted for only a partial lifting of the ban on councils portraying homosexuality in a positive light.

Website of the day

Political speeches can be difficult to penetrate but, using a website called to break them down into diagrams showing which words are most used, voters can decipher what the politicians are really trying to tell them. An analysis of the three main parties' manifesto speeches show that "call-me-Dave" wants to talk about "change" and "cuts", Gordon Brown is keen on "savings" and "costs", while Nick Clegg talks most about "Liberal" and "Democrats".

Kevin Rawlinson

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Hourly Paid Teachers

£20 - £25 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curren...

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits