Northern Ireland news

Unity candidate unlikely in North Antrim says former MLA

Daithí McKay said a single candidate to challenge Ian Paisley was unlikely. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

A former North Antrim MLA believes it is unlikely a single candidate would be agreed to challenge Ian Paisley if a by-election is called.

Mr Paisley's suspension of 30 sitting days from Westminster has triggered a recall petition that will force him to defend his seat if 7,500 signatures are gathered.

Up to 10 locations across North Antrim will be used to collect signatures from around 75,000 people already included on the electoral register.

The selected venues will be open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday for six weeks to allow voters to register their protest against the shamed MP.

Mr Paisley has indicated he would stand again in a by-election, where he woukld be defending a majority of more than 20,000.

His total vote of 28,521 at last year's general election is greater than the 19,939 votes his five rivals secured collectively.

According to former Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay, the prospects of finding a single candidate to challenge the sitting MP are slim.

"Ian Paisley Junior is very much seen as being North Antrim’s prodigal son and as such will be difficult to unseat even with the details that have emerged concerning the Sri Lankan government," the former North Antrim representative told The Irish News.

Mr McKay suggested the only real prospect of defeating the former first minister's son would be in a two-horse race akin to former journalist Martin Bell's challenge to Tory MP Neil Hamilton in the 1997 Westminster election.

With Hamilton at the centre of sleaze allegations, Mr Bell overturned a Tory majority of 22,000 to win the Tatton seat by more than 11,000 votes.

"It seems unlikely that there would be consensus amongst the other parties on a single candidate," Mr McKay said.

"But with the DUP holding a 20,000-plus majority, it's the only way that that they can make a by-election anything other than another Paisley victory."

The Irish News yesterday asked the DUP's main rivals whether they support a unity candidate.

Only the Ulster Unionists responded, with a spokesman saying: "I can't see that happening."

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 Recall is the title of Ian Knox's cartoon of July 25 2018

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