General election 2017: In North Antrim the Paisley dynasty looks strong as ever

Seven Towers roundabout at Ballymena
Seven Towers roundabout at Ballymena

Much to the shock of the DUP, Sinn Fein enjoyed a surprise success in North Antrim at the recent Assembly election, with its candidate Philip McGuigan making history by topping the poll in the constituency for the first time.

But the sudden resurgence of the republican party is likely to amount to very little in what is considered an extremely safe DUP Westminster seat.

A traditional DUP heartland, North Antrim has been inescapably linked with the party’s former leader Dr Ian Paisley since he first won the seat in 1970.

Having maintained an iron grip on the constituency for four decades until his retirement in 2010, many wondered if the fortunes of DUP would change once Mr Paisley stepped down in 2010, to be replaced by his son Ian Paisley Jr.

However, the dynastic dominance of the party appears to be as strong as ever, with Mr Paisley Jr strolling home in 2015 with 43.2% of the vote.

Although it is a mainly rural constituency with a strong farming community, the fact that Mr Paisley Jr was a proponent of Brexit is unlikely to hurt his chances with the electorate.

The Paisley name carries a lot of weight here, and not even the high-profile closures of JTI Gallaher and Michelin in his home town of Ballymena in recent years will have dented his chances of returning to the green benches of Westminster.

The TUV also enjoys a strong support base in North Antrim, and the party has decided to focus all of its energies here. Bannside councillor Timothy Gaston, who had a poor showing at the recent Assembly poll with just 3.1% of the vote, is the party’s sole candidate in the general election.

However, neither he nor Sinn Fein’s candidate Cara McShane are likely to make much of an impact on the DUP’s seemingly unassailable position here.

This contest is almost certainly heading for a comfortable victory for Mr Paisley Jr.

Candidates for 2017:

• Timothy Gaston, TUV

•Cara McShane, Sinn Fein

•Jackson Minford, UUP

•Declan O’Loan, SDLP

•Patricia O’Lynn, Alliance

•Ian Paisley Jr, DUP

2015 general election results:

Ian Paisley Jr (DUP): 18,107 (43.2%)

T Gaston (TUV): 6,561 (15.7%)

D McKay (SF): 5,143 (12.3%)

R Swann (UUP): 5,054 (12.1%)

D O’Loan (SDLP): 2,925 (7%)

J Dunlop (Alliance): 2,351 (5.6%)

R Hill (UKIP): 1,341 (3.2%)

C Freeman (Cons.): 368 (0.9%)

T Palmer (Ind.): 57 (0.1%)

Electorate: 75,876

Turnout: 42,116 (55.5%)

Combined unionist vote: 75.2%

2010 general election results:

I Paisley Jr (DUP): 19,672 (46.4%)

J Allister (TUV): 7,114 (16.8%)

D McKay (SF): 5,265 (12.4%)

I Armstrong (Ulster Cons. and Unionists): 4,634 (10.9%)

D O’Loan (SDLP): 3,738 (8.8%)

J Dunlop (Alliance): 1,368 (3.2%)

L Cubitt (Ind.): 606 (1.4%)

Electorate: 73,338

Turnout: 42,579 (58.1%)

Combined unionist vote: 75.5%