Wilson must sacrifice the 'best job' he's ever had if he wins


DUP Finance Minister is confident the people of East Antrim will again rally behind him, writes GERRY MORIARTY, Northern Editor

IT WOULD take something of a seismic shift to dislodge the DUP’s Sammy Wilson from East Antrim. This was a traditional Ulster Unionist seat, but Wilson won it by a landslide 50 per cent vote five years ago after narrowly failing to take the seat in the 2001 British general election.

Wilson has mixed feelings about this battle, because to win he must sacrifice the “best job” he’s ever had.

Nonetheless, Wilson intends to hold his Westminster seat. He is confident that regardless of the convulsions that have afflicted the Robinsons and the DUP this year, the people of East Antrim will again rally behind him.

This is safe unionist territory, where there are two unionists trying to snap at his heels. Going on previous elections, his chief opponent should be Rodney McCune, who is standing for UCUNF (Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force).

A barrister, he specialises in criminal law and speaks Russian, French and a little Swedish. His father served for 30 years in the RUC during the worst of the Troubles, a fact which will go down well with many voters in East Antrim.

Running for the Traditional Unionist Voice party is Sammy Morrison. He is the young TUV press officer who is seeking to mop up the anti-Belfast Agreement, anti-powersharing vote in East Antrim.

How Morrison fares will be an indicator of whether the TUV might have a chance of winning an Assembly seat in East Antrim next year.

McCune and Morrison ganged up on Wilson by accusing the DUP of deliberately destroying some of their posters. Wilson condemned any such action, but in typical fashion inverted the matter to his advantage by suggesting they must never have experienced such vandalism before – which just demonstrated their “inexperience” as candidates.

Alliance has a decent foothold in East Antrim, with one Assembly seat held by former leader Sean Neeson, and its candidate Gerry Lynch will be hoping to deepen the party’s imprint here.

Justin McCamphill, the SDLP’s young spokesman on energy, is also working to make an impression and to create the conditions to take an Assembly seat, last held here for the SDLP by Danny O’Connor. He won in 1998, but narrowly failed in the last two Assembly contests.

With changes to the boundaries there are now more nationalists in the constituency, and a seat for either the SDLP or Sinn Féin is a distinct possibility next year. The SDLP hold the advantage over Sinn Féin, but republican candidate Oliver McMullan will be working to increase Sinn Féin’s vote share.

Wilson needn’t fear any of these opponents, but he will have some concerns about his leader Peter Robinson, who has made a pledge that apart from him there will be no double-jobbing DUP MPs and Assembly members.

Robinson is to “phase in” that change, and Wilson’s fervent hope is that it is a long run in. He holds the senior Finance Ministry in the Northern Executive, and loves the work.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he says with conviction. “It’s a field that I enjoy; there’s been a wee bit of controversy; there are interesting decisions to be made. It’s a fantastic department to work in.”

Still, he looks on the bright side and says that Westminster should be “more relevant” this time, especially if there is a hung parliament, and especially if the DUP holds the balance of power.