Irish Republican News · May 4, 2010
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Westminster 2010 constituency profiles
Westminster 2010 constituency profiles
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A guide to this week’s political showdown in the North and what to watch for when the newsflashes come rolling in.

Belfast East

East Belfast will be one of the North’s most closely watched results.

Peter Robinson has certainly never had to defend his seat in these circumstances before.

In the past few months alone, he has had to contend with the political career of his wife ending amid a sex scandal, and questions about links to property developers.

Last year, there were those “Swish Family Robinson” jibes over double jobbing, controversial expenses claims and relatives on the payroll.

This is also the first time Mr Robinson will face the voters since the DUP went into government with Sinn Fein.

The Conservative and Unionist challenger to Mr Robinson is former rugby international Trevor Ringland, who has run a relatively high-profile campaign.

However, anti-Robinson vote will also split to Alliance’s Naomi Long and David Vance of the TUV, so no change is the best bet here.

Sinn Fein’s candidate here is party press officer Niall O Donnghaile.

Belfast North

In the last Assembly elections North Belfast broke down three seats each for unionists and nationalists -- two DUP and one Ulster Unionist representative, two Sinn Feiners and one SDLP Assembly member.

This is a constituency long overdue for a nationalist breakthrough, and the goal of a three-to-one split between green and orange in unionism’s ‘capital city’ has appeared into view through the political haze.

Sinn Fein junior minister Gerry Kelly who is again standing here appealed to the SDLP and its candidate, Alban Maginness, to stand aside and give him a free run against Dodds.

He argued that “winning this seat for nationalism for the first time in this constituency’s 125-year history would break the DUP veto on equality for all”.

But ‘Team Dodds’ had a 17% advantage over Kelly last time out, and a major inroad into that majority will be needed if the summit is to be scaled next time out.

Belfast South

The election in South Belfast took a major twist after Sinn Fein Assembly member Alex Maskey withdrew his candidature.

Maskey stood aside to give the outgoing MP, the SDLP’s Dr Alasdair McDonnell a clear run in the face of an Orange Order-inspired plot to take the seat for unionism.

No-one was more surprised than McDonnell when he won South Belfast in 2005 by 1,200 votes due to the DUP and Ulster Unionist candidates splitting the overall unionist vote.

Mr Maskey polled 2,882 votes five years ago, many of which could now go to Dr McDonnell which would improve his prospects of retaining South Belfast.

There are two unionist candidates standing in South Belfast, Jimmy Spratt for the DUP who polled 9,104 votes to Dr McDonnell’s 10,330 votes in 2005, and Paula Bradshaw who is standing for the UUP-Tory alliance of UCUNF (Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force).

DUP candidate Jimmy Spratt contacted Paula Bradshaw who is standing for the UUP-Tory alliance of UCUNF minutes before nominations offering to hand her his Assembly seat if she withdrew from the election in South Belfast. The bizarre offer was rejected.

Sinn Fein described it was “a bold leadership initiative”, and should ensure Maskey retains his hard-won Assembly seat next time out. McDonnell’s fate is far less certain. With the TUV not standing here, there is high risk that the DUP could yet win enough tactical unionist votes to secure the seat.

Belfast West

A republican stronghold, West Belfast is where Sinn Fein has built its political home for more than 25 years.

The party’s dominance began in 1983 with the election of the party president Gerry Adams, replacing the SDLP’s Gerry Fitt. He went on to be re-elected in 1987, 1997, 2001 and 2005.

The only blip for Sinn Fein was in 1992 when the SDLP’s Dr Joe Hendron managed to reclaim the seat for the nationalist party in 1992 by just 589 votes with the support of loyalists.

The shock at that result probably did more than anything else to ensure that Adams’s seat is the safest in the North.

Despite allegations over his brother Liam and misgivings over his denials of IRA involvement in the past conflict, Adams will romp home. The only question is the margin of victory and if it will be enough to safeguard the party’s four Assembly seats here next year.

East Antrim

With a Protestant majority of 79%, the constituency is a unionist stronghold and the DUP’s Sammy Wilson is odds on to retain the seat he won in 2005 from UUP man Roy Beggs, who had held the seat since 1983.

The TUV enjoys pockets of support in hardline areas and will be hoping to attract disaffected DUP voters.

Boundary changes see mainly nationalist rural wards of Glenaan, Glenariff and Glendun vote in East Antrim for the first time. Turnout is traditionally low.

Sinn Fein’s Oliver McMullan will be hoping his reputation in the rural north coast wards will help him improve the party’s growing support in this constituency.

East Derry

Prominent DUP politician Gregory Campbell is defending a majority of 7,727 in this ultra-safe unionist seat.

Known to unionists as ‘Londonderry East’, the Sinn Fein vote here has more than doubled since 1998, from 10% to 20%, and first time Westminster candidate Cathal O hOisin takes on the seat for the party this time out.

Veteran politician William Ross is the TUV candidate and his vote will be watched for any sign of a TUV tide. But it would be a major shock if Mr Campbell was toppled here -- or even came close to falling.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone

The “dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone”, as Churchill described them, again see a critical election battle.

This time the election takes place on the day following the anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, who win this seat from his prison cell while on hunger strike in 1981.

Sinn Fein’s hopes of retaining the seat again depend heavily on ‘borrowed SDLP votes’.

The sitting MP Michelle Gildernew is a well-known and popular figure originally from Caledon in south Tyrone. Some unionist farmers give credit for her ministerial work and, while not going so far as to vote for her, admit she is far from being the hated figure some of Sinn Fein figures represent in their eyes.

Her chief rival in the constituency is agreed unionist unity candidate Rodney Connor.

The SDLP’s candidate, former journalist Fearghal McKinney has drawn antagonism in an increasingly republican constituency for splitting the nationalist vote. McKinney has no chance of winning the seat.

Sinn Fein will also be hoping that a hardline republican campaign for voters to spoil their ballots as a protest against prison conditions fails to materialise.

It remains to be seen if Sinn Fein’s sacrifice to save the SDLP seat in south Belfast will have swayed that party’s voters here.

The result will certainly be close and a significant triumph for Sinn Fein if they can hold here.

Foyle

The fight for Foyle will be very much a two-horse race between the fading brand of the SDLP’s Mark Durkan against Sinn Fein’s eye-catching campaign.

The Sinn Fein vote in Foyle has grown despite being the constituency of the last two SDLP leaders and in 2010 Sinn Fein is aiming to close the gap further on the SDLP and challenge for the Westminster seat here.

Martina Anderson is from the Bogside and has been involved with the republican struggle for over 30 years and is currently a member of the Policing Board.

Inveterate campaigner Eamon McCann is being supported by the IRSP. Although with little prospect of taking the seat, he is likely to win some protest republican votes. If so, he could detract from Sinn Fein’s push to build momentum towards a credible bid for the seat in 2015.

Lagan Valley

This time it is Daphne Trimble’s name that adorns Ulster Unionist and Conservative posters with her husband now established in the House of Lords after his defeat in neighbouring Upper Bann five years ago.

Last time, UUP renegade Jeffrey Donaldson romped home with nearly 55 per cent of the vote despite standing in his new DUP colours and making the seat his new party’s second safest.

In this overwhelmingly unionist constituency, he seems set to win again despite the unwelcome intrusion of Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV)

In 2007 Paul Butler won Sinn Fein’s first seat in this constituency, as the party’s vote share grew substantially. With a reputation for standing up to unionist discrimination and sectarianism, he is likely to significantly advance Sinn Fein’s vote share once again.

Mid-Ulster

Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is defending a very safe seat, and no one is expecting any surprises.

Mr McGuinness won Mid-Ulster from the DUP’s William McCrea in a famous victory 13 years ago.

The vanquished DUP man later headed off to fight in South Antrim, but his son Ian is now flying the flag for the party in the constituency.

Sinn Fein holds three out of the six Assembly seats, while the DUP, SDLP and UUP all have one MLA each.

In terms of recording the highest Sinn Fein vote share, Mid-Ulster has run consistently second to West Belfast in the strength of the party and McGuinness will look to maintain the party’s high vote here.

Newry and Armagh

This should be safe electoral territory for Sinn Fein and for Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy.

Seamus Mallon’s retirement in 2005 saw significant proportions of the former SDLP deputy leader’s vote simply transfer to Sinn Fein and Mr Murphy won it easily last time, with a majority of more than 8,000.

Murphy’s only enemy could be disenchantment among voters in the North’s most republican rural constituency for the new political dispensation.

However, this could be balanced by a feel-good’ factor in Newry resulting from the recent surge in cross-border shopping which has boosted local employment as well as the coffers of retail outlets.

While the seat is highly unlikely to change hands at this election, the interest will lie in observing the relative strengths of the parties on either side of the sectarian divide.

The Sinn Fein vote here has grown steadily over the last decade, culminating not just in the 2005 breakthrough when Conor Murphy won the Westminster seat but also in impressive performances at Assembly elections, taking three of the six seats.

North Antrim

Following the departure of the former First Minister Ian Paisley and his impressive personal vote, this constituency could be the harbinger for a new brand of unionist extremism.

Paisley’s son, Ian Junior, is a figure of fun to many and will struggle to inherit his father’s vote. The Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister is running a strong campaign and has long vowed to take this seat.

If he was to succeed, it would precipitate an unprecedented crisis in the DUP. Commentators, however, believe it is too much of an ask to overturn the DUP’s huge majority in a single election.

Although neither candidate has a chance of impacting the main contest, the nationalist vote will also be closely watched here, as both Daithi McKay for Sinn Fein and Declan O’Loan for the SDLP have relatively high profiles within their respective parties.

North Down

In recent decades, North Down has been a maverick unionist constituency, a trend reinforced when sitting MP Sylvia Hermon quit the Ulster Unionists over its new links to the Tories.

Hermon had held the sole Ulster Unionist seat in the House of Commons in 2005. Now standing as an Independent she is defending a majority of nearly 5,000, but the DUP, which came in second in 2005, is not fielding a candidate.

Her main competition is considered by some to be Ian Parsley of the Alliance Party, but the DUP are also hopeful of a gain here after repeated attempts.

Vincent Parker is the Sinn Fein candidate here and it is his first Westminster election.

South Antrim

A major unionist battleground for the past decade, an impressive decision by Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey to contest this seat takes this year’s hostilities to a whole new level.

His leadership will be under pressure if he does not produce a much-needed breakthrough after his ill-advised and absurdly-named UCUNF alliance with the Tories.

South Antrim used to be safe UUP territory until the DUP’s notorious hardliner Willie McCrea claimed a shock by-election victory against Ulster Unionist David Burnside.

That was a significant early indication that unionist opinion was hardening in the constituency.

Mr Burnside was the winner in the General Election the following year, but Mr McCrea then reclaimed the seat in 2005.

The TUV could seize a large share of the hardline unionist vote this time out.

However, Tory leader David Cameron’s declaration that the North of Ireland tops his hit-list for cuts could cost Empey, and means that the UUP leader could soon be lampooned as Sir Reg Still-not-an-MP.

Mitchel McLaughlin will continue to advance Sinn Fein’s vote in the constituency, but with a view to seats in the Assembly rather than Westminster.

South Down

This is the only contest in the North where the two main competitors are women.

New SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie knows that to hold on to the seat vacated by Eddie McGrady after 23 years in the House of Commons she will need unionist support - regardless of the hefty 9,000 vote advantage Mr McGrady held over Sinn Fein from the last election.

That knowledge is likely to have been a significant factor in Ritchie’s refusal to countenance an election pact with Sinn Fein.

Despite being the highest-profile match-up between the two main nationalist parties, this contest did not ignite into the grudge match some had expected.

Caitriona Ruane has been an Assembly member for Sinn Fein here since 2003. In 2007, Ruane was appointed Minister of Education in the new Executive and immediately put in place a comprehensive agenda of change to modernise the Six-County education system but met bitter opposition to her plans, chiefly from wealthy unionists.

Sinn Fein’s vote has doubled here in the last decade and a continuation of that trend would hand Sinn Fein the seat. A defeat for Ritchie would be unthinkable for the SDLP, and pundits are giving Ruane little chance of what would be an upset victory.

Strangford

Sleepy, largely affluent and unionist, this constituency looks set to be a walkover for the DUP’s Jim Shannon. The only anxiety is the ‘lust and greed’ scandal over the DUP leader’s wife Iris Robinson.

Up against him is former TV newsman and ex-Victims Commissioner Mike Nesbitt, one of the most high-profile Conservative-UUP candidates standing in the General Election.

Mrs Robinson had a thumping 13,049 majority over the UUP in this solid unionist seat in 2005.

Circumstances are somewhat different this time, to say the least, but Mr Shannon is still generally regarded as favourite.

Sinn Fein’s candidate is Mickey Coogan, who was elected to Down District Council in May 2005.

Upper Bann

Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) pulled out of the election here, citing the prospect of Sinn Fein snatching the seat from a divided unionism.

That raised eyebrows and said much for the increasing nationalist vote here as well as the work rate of John O’Dowd, Sinn Fein’s candidate.

But Upper Bann is now essentially a DUP-Ulster Unionist re-match following the devastating defeat of David Trimble by David Simpson in 2005.

Simpson is defending his party’s second-smallest majority but Trimble has been replaced with a relative political novice, the Freddie Mercury impersonator Harry Hamilton.

The TUV hinted its supporters should vote UUP but a 5,300 majority will be hard to turn around.

Sinn Fein have consistently elected an Assembly member in this constituency since 1998 and the vote which grew nearly 50% between the 1998 and 2001 elections increased again in the 2007 Assembly elections. The party will be targeting a second Assembly seat next year.

West Tyrone

Pat Doherty, a Sinn Fein Assembly member for the constituency since 1998, was elected an MP in 2001, retaining the seat in 2005.

Sinn Fein increased its vote in 2007 and added a new Assembly seat, coming 1, 2 and 3 on the first count.

Doherty was a central figure in the development of the Irish Peace Process and of Sinn Fein’s strategy and was Sinn Fein vice-president from 1989 to 2009.

He is defending a 5,000-odd majority and should easily hold off the DUP’s Tom Buchanan in this strongly nationalist constituency.

Last time Carrickmore GP Kieran Deeny ran on the single issue of retaining the Tyrone County Hospital, taking almost 12,000 votes.

He isn’t standing this time, and his votes should help boost Mr Doherty’s majority.

© 2010 Irish Republican News