Monday 24 October 2016

'Tribal, sectarian, personal or just nasty': North goes to polls

Ahead of the UK general election on Thursday, Mick Fealty previews the race for the 18 seats in Northern Ireland

Mick Fealty

Published 05/05/2015 | 02:30

Sinn Fein candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew with John Vaughan in Shambles restaurant in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone
Sinn Fein candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew with John Vaughan in Shambles restaurant in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone
UUP candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly canvasses a stormtrooper at a door in Belfast
Mick Fealty

In contrast to the feverish situation in Britain, the Westminster campaign in Northern Ireland has been memorable largely for its lack of any serious political argument.

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As a result, most of Northern Ireland's contested 18 seats are likely to return the same retiring MP or their replacement by a party colleague.

Many of those fighting are already sitting MLAs just trying to keep their activists warmed and ready for next year's round of musical chairs in the Assembly elections. Three of those are serving ministers. One is a special adviser.

Almost all are trying to unseat parties with whom they already share power in the Northern Ireland Executive. In the case of the two main unionist parties, a pact in some constituencies acts as a secondary brake on the campaign where there is a free intra Unionist contest.

Without real arguments, the most closely fought constituencies have been tribal (Fermanagh and South Tyrone), sectarian (North Belfast), personal (East Belfast) or downright nasty (South Belfast). Despite serious damage to their sitting Health Minister after his remarks about same-sex marriage in a South Down hustings, the DUP have at least made some waves outside Northern Ireland.

However, if the polls are right, their handful of MPs could provide the balance in the next Westminster parliament.

Belfast North

MUCH less tight than the hype. Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly attracted controversy for billing this as a fight between Catholic and Protestant. But for a campaign cast in such narrow terms, the gap is too wide. DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds should win.

Belfast West

This seat has Sinn Féin’s name deeply engraved on it. Paul Maskey may struggle to register Gerry Adams’s 71.1pc last time, but second-placed SDLPer Alex Attwood has been on just 16pc in the last two elections.

Belfast South

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has won twice but relies on tactical voting. DUP junior minister Jonathan Bell has the highest profile in a crowded Unionist field. Sinn Féin’s Mairtin O Muilleoir entry could gift the seat to Bell. Result: 2am.

Belfast East

ALLIANCE’S only MP Naomi Long against Gavin Robinson. The young DUP man is strongly favoured, while Long is competing for those 2010 Westminster voters who failed to show for the UUP in the 2011 Assembly election.

Result expected 2am on Friday.

Antrim South

In 2010, this was the DUP’s most marginal seat for the Rev Willie McCrea. UUP leader Reg Empey missed out by around 1,000 votes. The unionist pact makes it hard for the UUP’s Danny Kinahan to create an impact. Result: 2.30am

Antrim East

The DUP’s Sammy Wilson took this seat from the UUP in 2005. Double-jobbing at senior ministerial level in Stormont has helped him make it his own. Most other candidates are sitting MLAs just keeping their activists warmed up.

Antrim North

Another shoo-in for the Paisley name – the DUP’s Ian Paisley Jnr. Lower down, the TUV’s new councillor Timothy Gaston is looking to lay down a solid base for party leader Jim Allister, who scraped in ahead of the SDLP in the last Assembly elections. Result: 1am

East Derry

Only unionist-held seat west of the River Bann, it’s held by controversialist MP Gregory Campbell (DUP) with a relatively low 34.6pc of the vote. But the opposition is currently too fragmented to catch him.  Result: 3am


Despite being deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness’s home, ought to be a bridge too far for SF. Seen as a rehearsal for 2016’s Assembly election, where they split three to two for the SDLP. Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan should hold. Result: 1am

West Tyrone

Since taking this seat from Unionist Willie Thompson in 2001 – and from under the noses of SDLP – Pat Doherty made this solid Sinn Féin territory, returning three out of six seats in the last two Assembly elections. Result: 1.30am

Fermanagh South Tyrone

The narrowest majority in the whole of Westminster was decided by just four votes last time. The unionist candidate is former UUP leader Tom Elliott. Despite solid home support, his controversial remarks in 2011 about the “scum of Sinn Féin” may consolidate the nationalist vote for Sinn Féin’s only female MP, Michelle Gildnernew. Result: 5am

Mid Ulster

Should see veteran Sinn Féin man Francie Molloy home at a canter. A prototype unionist pact here in the 2013 by-election made little impression on the popular vote bequeathed him by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Result: 3.30am

Upper Bann

IN 2005 David Simpson of the DUP edged out former UUP leader David Trimble. The UUP remains very competitive at Assembly level, but with a more than 3,000-vote buffer last time and the deadening effect of the unionist pact, the DUP should hold. Result expected: 1.30am

Lagan Valley

The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson regularly takes 50pc of the vote in what was once a UUP stronghold. With the departure of Basil McCrea, the UUP no longer have an Assembly representative here. Result: 1.30am

Newry and Armagh

Former Stormont minister Conor Murphy comes in from the Westminster cold and is likely to be replaced by sitting Sinn Féin MLA Mickey Brady. SDLP ringer and ex-GAA star Justin McNulty hopes to shake things up. Result: 3.30am

South Down

Old nationalist territory in SDLP hands since 1987, it has already provided the scalp of Health Minister Jim Wells after his remarks on same-sex marriage at a Downpatrick hustings. The SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie should hold comfortably. Result: 3.30am


No serious competition for Jim Shannon in comfortable DUP territory. The UUP will want a good performance from councillor Robert Burgess since UUP leader Mike Nesbitt’s is the party’s only seat here in the current Assembly. Result: 2am

North Down

Should see the return of Northern Ireland’s only independent MP to Westminster. Sylvia Hermon is just the third MP since 1970. The widow of former RUC Chief Constable John Hermon, she left the UUP before the last general election. 2011 Assembly poll-topper Alex Easton of the DUP should cut her majority. Result: 2am


Mick Fealty is the Editor of the Slugger O'Toole blog.

Irish Independent

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