We were told it had fallen, crumbled to the ground decayed and decrepit. Not a chance. The House of Paisley is being rebuilt as the House of Robinson is ripped asunder. "I'm so proud of him," said the Rev Ian Paisley as his son, Ian Jnr, obliterated the opposition to be declared North Antrim MP.
"I never thought he'd lose. We Paisleys are made of stern stuff. But if he learned to be a politician from me, he learned to be a clever one from his mother," said the former DUP leader as he clasped his wife's hand at the Ballymena count centre.
That cameo said it all – Ian Paisley Snr, still very much in love with his wife and, aged 84, leaving the stage content that he had successfully passed the torch to his son and that a Paisley will be in politics for a long time to come.
In East Belfast, it was all so different. In defeat, Peter Robinson cut a lonely figure. There was no wife to comfort him as he lost the seat he had held for three decades.
Five years ago, he had trounced Alliance's Naomi Long, winning four times as many votes as her. This time, Long's victory surely relegated Robinson to history.
His wife's affair with a toyboy lover wasn't the issue. It was never about the sex, it was about the money. The £571,000 the couple earned a year; Iris's £300 Mont Blanc pen and Peter's £755 briefcase initially claimed at the taxpayer's expense; the £5 land deal which later enabled the couple to sell part of their back garden for £460,000. The voters had seen enough.
"I remember Peter and Iris when they lived in an ordinary wee house in east Belfast. The only thing that made it different from everybody else's was its security cameras," a DUP activist recalled wistfully. As Robinson made his concession speech, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) activists waved £5 notes in the air. "Peter can spend more time with the wife now!" somebody else unkindly quipped.
Sympathy from clan Paisley was sparse. Although, they've never publicly said so, the Paisleys are understood to feel that Robinson pushed Ian Snr and Jnr from office two years ago. "Certain people thought the time had come when there shouldn't be a Paisley about the place," a source said.
Word of Robinson's defeat drifted into the Ballymena count as Ian Jnr, hand in pocket in his trademark pin-striped suit, made his victory speech. "Is that so?" Paisley Snr muttered when the Sunday Tribune broke the news. Later, he remarked with a twinkle in his eye: "Don't ask me because I'm not an active member. I'm the man [who] sits in the chair, drinks the tea and smiles down on everybody."
Across the North, the DUP lost nearly 9% of its vote, but all its MPs bar Robinson were re-elected. Unionist voters clearly don't have a problem with DUP policies or power-sharing. They mightn't like Sinn Féin leaders' pasts but they're learning to live with them. Their world hasn't caved in with the transfer of policing and justice to Stormont. Dissident republican attacks aren't at a level to unsettle them.
It's just Robinson personally who is toxic to voters.
Strangford – Iris Robinson's old constituency – could have seen the same result as East Belfast except that the party wisely chose a candidate as unlike Mrs Robinson as is humanly possible. Jim Shannon, a pigeon-shooting pig farmer, is old-style DUP and as unpretentious as they come.
In his acceptance speech, he promised he wouldn't get carried away in Westminster and would still have time to sort out "pot-holes in Portaferry". As for his stationery, he promised the Sunday Tribune there'd be no Mont Blanc pens: "I'm a 10p biro man myself!"
It emerged as the North's largest party in last year's European election and Sinn Féin confirmed that position again securing 25.5% of the total vote to the DUP's 25%. Had a DUP, rather than a united unionist, candidate contested Fermanagh and South Tyrone, the DUP would have nudged ahead. Still, Sinn Féin's success was significant – of the North's four main parties it alone saw its vote grow (1.2%).
In Fermanagh and South Tyrone, it secured a remarkable victory against all the odds. Every statistic in the book pointed to Michelle Gildernew, Sinn Féin's hugely likeable agriculture minister, being defeated by unionist unity candidate and former council chief executive Rodney Connor. But the 'Save Michelle' campaign swung into action.
Connor was a colourless candidate who failed to capture the imagination. And here, Sinn Féin pointed out, was a progressive young mother – admired for her fairness even by Protestant farmers – fighting to win. Shinners from every part of Ireland descended on the constituency.
The party laid on buses to bring Fermanagh and South Tyrone students at Belfast's Queens University home to vote. When eight students missed the last bus, taxis sped to Belfast to collect them.
It was typical Sinn Féin and it paid off handsomely. Gildernew won by just four votes. The students were delighted with her and she was delighted with them, according to the message sent back to Belfast. "Michelle would like to extend her thanks to Tom and Malachy," declared a handmade poster in the window of one student's digs.
Unionists claim some ballot papers for Sinn Féin in Fermanagh and South Tyrone "looked like they were fake". It's also alleged that 35 more ballot papers turned up at the count centre than were issued at polling stations. And some PSNI officers who applied for postal votes said they didn't receive them. Legal action is planned. But even if the above complaints are true it's notoriously difficult to overturn an election result.
It was a very good election for female candidates. Not only did Long and Gildernew triumph but SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie romped home in South Down and Lady Sylvia Hermon secured 63% of the poll in North Down. "It's like the bloody Women's Institute!" proclaimed an old-fashioned South Belfast SDLP voter.
But one woman yet again failed to inspire the electorate. If Sinn Féin has any sense it will ditch education minister Caitriona Ruane, once regarded as the party's rising female star. Ruane made no impact against Ritchie in South Down. Only stubbornness prevents her party dumping her.
While Peter Robinson was punished in East Belfast, West Belfast failed to do the same to Gerry Adams – whose already huge vote rose 2.5% – despite revelations of his lies and inaction over his brother Liam and allegations of his role in ordering Jean McConville's murder.
The reasons are varied. Adams hasn't faced the same media grilling – most notably from broadcasters – as Robinson. And the cult of personality is now much greater in nationalist than in unionist areas. Adams is worshipped by many.
But it's not all positive for Sinn Féin even in its most loyal heartland. West Belfast is known for its huge political commitment and lack of apathy. Yet of the four Belfast constituencies, it recorded the lowest voter turn-out this time. Turn-out was down a massive 13.5% compared to 1% for North Belfast, 0.1% for East Belfast, and 5% for South Belfast.
Sinn Féin can't argue that people stayed at home because Adams was a dead cert. The same was true of Martin McGuinness in Mid-Ulster yet 63.4% of people voted there compared to only 54.9% in West Belfast. Whatever Sinn Féin says publicly, their strategists will be concerned. In North Belfast, Gerry Kelly put in an impressive performance – his vote rising by 7%. He'll be snapping at DUP MP Nigel Dodds' heels next time.
For the SDLP, the election was a story of survival. At 16.5%, the party's vote was down an acceptable 1% and, most importantly, its three MPs held their seats. Alasdair McDonnell put in a superb performance in South Belfast, increasing his vote by 11%. Yet overall, the SDLP is making no inroads into Sinn Féin's vote. It needs a radical re-think if it's to do more than just hold its ground and hope that the Shinners mess up.
The Ulster Unionists are in serious trouble. Their election pact with the Conservatives was an unmitigated disaster. For the first time in history, the party has no MPs. Unionist heartlands might regard themselves as British as Finchley but they just don't like the Tories. David Cameron or William Hague prancing about Belfast isn't a vote winner.
Cameron's announcement a week before polling day that the North would be targeted for public sector cuts cost the party thousands of votes, particularly in East Belfast with its huge civil-servant population. It helped Alliance's Naomi Long in her battle with Unionist and Conservative candidate Trevor Ringland to take Peter Robinson's seat.
Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey, odds-on favourite to take South Antrim from the DUP's Rev William McCrea, only increased his party's vote there by a pathetic 1%. Empey's resignation is imminent. Sources told the Sunday Tribune he wanted to do so last Friday but a senior official said the party needed a few more days' preparation.
Health minister Michael McGimpsey and Assembly members Basil McCrea and Danny Kennedy – who against the trend increased his vote by 5% in Newry and Armagh – are possible leadership contenders. But the Ulster Unionists' only way forward is either a coalition, or even unity, with the DUP. Sources say that's likely if Robinson resigns as DUP leader.
"He was the stumbling block to unionist unity. He'd insulted too many of us at some stage. If Robbo goes, the chemistry changes," says a senior Ulster Unionist. "We could work with either Arlene Foster or Nigel Dodds."
For Robinson, it's a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. He's architect of the DUP policies and vision that the electorate now endorses. He's the one who, for decades, sat up night after night, plotting strategy and analysing voting trends. But while the DUP respected his intelligence, it never loved him. Peter Robinson had the party's head, but he never had its heart.
His natural instinct will be to hang onto power but several DUP sources say that's impossible. "The party must be led from Westminster. Although the Lib Dems will be first on Cameron's list, if he wants to talk to us it will be through Nigel Dodds," says one DUP MP.
Dodds is favourite for party leader with Foster possibly becoming First Minister. Robinson, however, might want to retain that position until the Assembly elections next May. One senior DUP figure hopes otherwise: "I pray Peter makes the same choice for the party's future as the party does so there's no conflict."
For the hardline TUV, the future is grim. After Jim Allister's strong performance in last year's European elections, the party looked unstoppable. Last Thursday, every candidate flopped: from twentysomething solicitor Keith Harbinson to seventysomething ex-MP Willie Ross. In North Antrim, Paisley Jnr outpolled Allister almost three-to-one.
The TUV firmly abelieved Allister would win. The party vote in other constituencies was expected to then sweep a wave of TUV Assembly members in to shake up Stormont next May. Thursday's results suggest that just Allister and two or three others would be elected. They'd carry no weight in a 108-member chamber.
Allister is one of the North's most formidable politicians but his message is out of step with the electorate. The big question is whether he wants to stay and try to change their minds or retire and leave them to it. The landscape will improve for him only if dissident republicans significantly up their campaign or DUP-Ulster Unionist unity opens up room for an opposition party.
In Ballymena, Allister said: "Politics isn't always about winning. Sometimes, it's about taking a stand. I leave this count with my head held high and my convictions intact. I'd rather lose than win and betray my principles."
As in East Belfast with Robinson, unkindness was the order of the night. "Look at oul' sourpuss," declared a DUP supporter, pointing at Allister. "He's standing there like a donkey chewing nettles!" A DUP councillor waved a 'P45 sign' before the TUV man.
In the declaration hall, the DUP faithful belted out a gospel song about the "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" and then 'God Save The Queen'. "There's only one Ian Paisley!" declared Assembly member Mervyn Storey. And then he remembered: "Oh, now we have two!"
The 'cult of personality" is greater in Nationalist areas - because they have politiicians with personalities.
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