Westminster election 2019 - constituency profiles

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A snapshot of the 18 constituencies ahead of Thursday’s Westminster general election.

 

NORTH BELFAST

This is a straight two-horse race between a moderate republican who has campaigned for justice for the father he saw get shot to death, and a unionist extremist who has become synonymous with the chaos and self-destruction of Brexit.

Sinn Féin is appealing for unionist votes to help stop the DUP’s Nigel Dodds and derail his disastrous hard Brexit.

North Belfast has never elected a non-unionist MP, meaning a loss for Dodds - the DUP’s deputy leader - would be seen as a major change in northern politics.

The result is expected to be incredibly close, which has escalated tensions and made this one of the most tense constituency contests.

Police were called over threats made against UUP staff as the party came under loyalist threat to stand aside in favour of Mr Dodds to avoid splitting the unionist vote.

Several contentious loyalist banners have also been erected targeting Sinn Féin’s John Finucane (pictured, centre) and his family. Mr Dodds has held the North Belfast seat since 2001 but Mr Finucane ran him close in 2017, finishing just over 2,000 votes behind.

Gaining the votes of the SDLP, Greens, moderate unionists and stay-at-home republicans is a tall order but it could be enough for Sinn Féin to topple Dodds in 2019. It’s a complete toss up, but major change is possible if everyone rows in behind John Finucane.

Candidates:

Nigel Dodds (DUP)
John Finucane (SF)
Nuala McAllister (ALL)

2017 share of vote:

DUP - 46.2%
SF - 41.7%
ALL - 5.4%
SDLP - 4.5%
Green - 1.4%
WP - 0.8%

SOUTH BELFAST

South Belfast is was one of the Ireland’s most Remain-supporting constituencies in the 2016 EU referendum at almost 70 per cent, but only a year later voters elected a Brexit-backing MP.

The DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly, just months after losing her assembly seat, toppled SDLP stalwart Alasdair McDonnell. She was the beneficiary of a unionist vote converging around the DUP.

Little-Pengelly has recently faced criticism for remarks saying that most people “didn’t want a public fuss” about the UVF flags in the area, which is a very diverse constituency.

Sinn Féin and the Green Party have stood aside to bolster the pro-Remain vote and, in an unusual move, both parties have specifically backed the SDLP’s Claire Hanna in the race, and she is now the favourite to win.

Only Hanna (pictured, right) can stop the DUP here this time out, and she will have a very diverse group of voters turning out for her, including republicans.

Candidates:

Paula Bradshaw (ALL)
Claire Hanna (SDLP)
Michael Henderson (UUP)
Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP)
Chris McHugh (Aontú)

2017 share of vote:

DUP - 30.4%
SDLP - 25.9%
ALL - 18.2%
SF - 16.3%
Green - 5.1%
UUP - 3.5%
Cons - 0.6%

EAST BELFAST

The battle for East Belfast is the latest instalment in a series of contests between the DUP and the Alliance Party.

Alliance leader Naomi Long and incumbent DUP MP Gavan Robinson are contesting the seat for the third time.

Mrs Long dramatically won in 2010 by defeating then First Minister Peter Robinson, only for it to be reclaimed by the DUP. Gavin Robinson, who is no relation of the ex-DUP leader, held the seat in 2017 when the political rivals went head-to-head once more.

Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Green Party all opted out of contesting the constituency to boost pro-Remain candidate Mrs Long’s chances of ousting the Brexit-backing DUP. For nationalists, republicans and neutrals, there is a very short list of possible candidates, and that is Long.

Candidates:

Naomi Long (ALL)
Carl McClean (UUP)
Gavin Robinson (DUP)

2017 share of vote:

DUP - 55.8%
ALL - 36.0%
UUP - 3.3%
SF - 2.1%
Green - 1.3%
Cons - 1.0%
SDLP - 0.4%
Ind - 0.1%

WEST BELFAST

Sinn Féin is certain to win here, but the main interest will again be in the margin of victory. Paul Maskey - who has held the seat since 2011 - will be running for the party.

In the last Westminster election in June 2017, Mr Maskey won a very convincing 66.7 per cent of the vote with no other candidate coming anywhere close.

This percentage share was up from the previous Westminster election, when the party polled 54.2 per cent.

The party also already holds four of the five Assembly seats for West Belfast with People Before Profit taking the fifth. The socialist party’s candidate is again Gerry Carroll and is seen by Sinn Féin as the main competition. Unusually, has been targeted by Sinn Féin for his anti-EU stance with posters which Mr Carroll has complained are misleading.

Also running is former Sinn Féin councillor Monica Digney, who is standing as an Aontú candidate, and is likely hoping to build support for a future challenge for the council or Assembly.

Candidates:

Gerry Carroll (PBP)
Monica Digney (Aontú)
Paul Doherty (SDLP)
Donnamarie Higgins (ALL)
Paul Maskey (SF)
Frank McCoubrey (DUP)

2017 share of vote:

SF - 66.7%
DUP - 13.4%
PBP - 10.4 %
SDLP - 7.0 %
ALL - 1.8 %
WP - 0.9 %

FERMANAGH AND SOUTH TYRONE

Sitting MP Sinn Féin Michelle Gildernew (pictured, left) faces a very close contest in Fermanagh and South Tyrone against the UUP’s Tom Elliott.

The constituency encapsulates the traditional battle between nationalism and unionism, and it remains a critically marginal seat.

A decision of the SDLP and the Alliance to field candidates, despite the DUP dropping out in favour of Brexiteer Tom Elliott, is inexplicable.

However, Aontú’s decision not to contest the constituency has come as a relief. In July, Dungannon SDLP councillor Denise Mullen defected to the party, but her decision not to stand will leave Michelle Gildernew as the only possible choice for all republicans, whose support she will need.

Sinn Féin lost the seat by 530 votes in 2015, and only barely recovered it from Elliott in the 2017 snap election with a majority of just 875 votes, and on the back of a surge in the republican vote that year.

Candidates:

Matthew Beaumont (ALL)
Tom Elliott (UUP)
Adam Gannon (SDLP)
Michelle Gildernew (SF)
Caroline Wheeler (Ind)

2017 share of vote:

SF - 47.2%
UUP - 45.5%
SDLP - 4.8%
All - 1.7%
GP - 0.8%

NORTH DOWN

Unionist Sylvia Hermon has held the seat for 18 years, though she contested the last three elections as an independent, having objected to the Ulster Unionists’ formal ties with the Tories under the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists-New Force (UCUNF) banner.

However, with each election, the DUP has been getting closer and in 2017 came within 1,200 votes of unseating the incumbent.

Earlier this month, with the SDLP and Sinn Féin already having pulled out of the North Down race to help her, Lady Hermon announced that she would not be standing.

As a former Stormont minister in the constituency, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry has a high enough profile and should get the nationalist and republican vote here.

Candidates:

Alan Chambers (UUP)
Alex Easton (DUP)
Stephen Farry (ALL)
Matthew Robinson (Cons)

2017 share of vote:

Independents - 41.2%
DUP - 38%
ALL - 9.3%
Greens - 6.5%
Cons - 2.4%
SF - 1.4%
SDLP - 1%

SOUTH DOWN

Sinn Féin’s hold in South Down is unlikely to be broken when votes are cast later this month. A breakthrough for MP Chris Hazzard’s party came in 2017 after years of trying to wrestle the seat from the SDLP.

For three decades the constituency was a solid SDLP heartland. Former MP Eddie McGrady was later replaced by SDLP colleague Margaret Ritchie whose efforts to retain the seat fell short two years ago.

On that occasion Mr Hazzard polled 20,328 votes to Ms Ritchie’s 17,882. Earlier this year Ms Ritchie accepted a seat in the House of Lords, bringing the curtain down on her long career in local politics.

The party’s decision not to run one of its two higher profile assembly members for the seat could be seen as a surrender in a constituency it once counted as a sure bet.

An interesting addition to the ticket is Aontú’s Paul Brady. Observers will be keen to see if Aontú’s anti-abortion stand will give it a platform for council seats.

Candidates:

Paul Brady (Aontú)
Patrick Brown (ALL)
Glyn Hanna (DUP)
Chris Hazzard (SF)
Jill MacAuley (UUP)
Michael Savage (SDLP)

2017 share of vote:

SF - 39.9%
SDLP - 35.1%
DUP - 17.4%
UUP - 3.9%
ALL - 3.5%

STRANGFORD

Coming home with more than 24,000 votes in the last Westminster poll, not even Brexit or an expenses investigation is likely to put a dent in Jim Shannon’s fortunes in retaining his DUP seat in Strangford.

The former butcher is standing again after his staggering success in 2017, where he took over 60 per cent of the vote. T his time round his MP spending is under the spotlight.

An investigation was ordered in June by a parliamentary watchdog after it emerged Mr Shannon last year racked up a £240,000 expenses bill - more than any other MP - while his official parliamentary credit card has been suspended 13 times since 2015.

Despite the probe, Mr Shannon remains a hugely popular figure in a constituency which has been a DUP stronghold since 2001 when Iris Robinson overturned the Ulster Unionist’s dominance.

One of his nearest rivals last time round, former Ulster leader Mike Nesbitt, admitted it was “mission impossible” in trying to close the enormous gap against the DUP in “one campaign”.

Candidates:

Grant Abraham (Cons)
Kellie Armstrong (ALL)
Joe Boyle (SDLP)
Ryan Carlin (SF)
Maurice Macartney (Greens)
Jim Shannon (DUP)
Philip Smith (UUP)
Robert Stephenson (UKIP)

2017 share of vote:

DUP - 62%
Alliance - 14.7%
UUP - 11.4%
SDLP - 6.2%
SF - 2.8%

MID ULSTER

Veteran Sinn Féin representative Francie Molloy should have little to worry about when voters in Mid Ulster take to the polls later this month.

The seasoned campaigner has been the district’s MP since winning the seat vacated by former First Minister Martin McGuinness in a 2013 by-election.

The Mid-Ulster constituency has been in Sinn Féin’s grasp since 1997 when former DUP incumbent William McCrea was famously unseated by Mr McGuinness. The area, which extends from Lough Neagh to the Sperrin Mountains remains tactically important for republicans.

Candidates:

Mel Boyle (ALL)
Keith Buchanan (DUP)
Denise Johnston (SDLP)
Francie Molloy (SF)
Conor Rafferty (IND)
Neil Richardson (UUP)

2017 share of vote:

SF - 54.5%
DUP - 26.9%
SDLP - 9.8%
UUP - 6.5%
Alliance - 2.3%

NEWRY AND ARMAGH

No-one has got close to Sinn Féin since it won this seat from the SDLP in 2005. The party has won the last four general elections at a canter.

In 2017 Mickey Brady received more than 12,000 more votes than anyone else and there is nothing to suggest things will change significantly this time.

The other parties appear to accept this quietly. While they all have candidates, none would be considered a `big name’. Armagh native Martin Kelly is a new name, standing for Aontú.

His party said he became politically engaged “after witnessing the radical and distressing pro-choice stance taken by other political parties both north and south of the border, whom he feels betrayed many of the electorate”.

Candidates:

Mickey Brady (SF)
Pete Byrne (SDLP)
Jackie Coade (ALL)
William Irwin (DUP)
Martin Kelly (Aontú)
Sam Nicholson (UUP)

2017 share of vote:

SF - 47.9%
DUP - 24.6%
SDLP - 16.9%
UUP - 8.3%
ALL - 2.3%

EAST DERRY

Barring a total DUP collapse, Gregory Campbell should comfortably hold his seat in East Derry next month. With the DUP is virtually certain to hold the seat, interest will focus on the impact of the party’s support for Brexit on his majority.

Almost half of the electorate voted for the veteran MP in 2017. Even the combined vote of Sinn Féin’s Dermot Nicholl, who came second with almost 27 per cent of the vote, along with the SDLP and Alliance wouldn’t have been enough to unseat Mr Campbell.

Dermot Nicholl is a veteran Sinn Féin member of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough council.

For nationalist observers, the impact, if any, of Aontú on the SDLP and Sinn Féin is likely be the greatest talking point. They are fielding County Armagh native Seán McNicholl. Now living in East Derry, he works as a doctor in Altnagelvin Hospital.

Candidates:

Gregory Campbell (DUP)
Richard Holmes (UUP)
Cara Hunter (SDLP)
Chris McCaw (ALL)
Sean McNicholl (Aontú)
Dermot Nicholl (SF)

2017 share of vote:

DUP - 48.1%
SF - 26.5%
SDLP - 10.8%
UUP - 7.6%
ALL - 6.2%
Cons - 0.8%

NORTH ANTRIM

More than half the electorate of North Antrim cast their votes for sitting DUP MP Ian Paisley in 2017, who inherited his infamous father’s seat in 2010.

While in normal circumstances that would appear to be an unassailable majority, recent scandals surrounding Paisley could impact on the vote. Since the last general election, he has been the subject of a House of Commons suspension over visits to Sri Lanka. The Commons Standards Committee recommended a 30-day suspension over his failure to register the visit which was paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

The move subsequently led to his suspension from the DUP before he was re-admitted to the party in November 2018. However, he survived a move to force a by-election over the matter which fell when it failed to attract the required number of MPs’ votes to proceed.

The December poll, therefore, provides the North Antrim electorate with their first opportunity to voice an opinion on their MP, with newly retired UUP leader, Robin Swans challenging the Paisley reign.

Sinn Féin’s 2017 candidate, Cara McShane, will again represent the party.

Candidates:

Margaret Anne McKillop (SDLP)
Cara McShane (SF)
Patricia O’Lynn (All)
Ian Paisley (DUP)
Stephen Palmer (Ind)
Robin Swann (UUP)

2017 share of vote:

DUP - 58.9%
SF - 16.3%
UUP - 7.2%
TUV - 6.8%
ALL - 5.6%
SDLP - 5.3%

FOYLE

Just 169 votes separated Sinn Féin and the SDLP when Elisha McCallion wrested the seat from Mark Durkan in 2017 in an historic victory for her party.

Derry was the very heartland of the SDLP since the Foyle constituency was created in 1983. The party’s legendary leader, John Hume held the seat until 2005 when his appointed heir, Mark Durkan took over.

McCallion’s success rocked the SDLP and it was not surprising that new leader, Colm Eastwood set out the return of the seat as one of his priorities.

If McCallion retains, it will consolidate Sinn Féin’s claim to the city while knocking serious dents in Eastwood’s SDLP leadership. However, a win for Eastwood will likely trigger headlines that the SDLP has made a recovery.

Aontú’s Anne McCloskey, a retired GP and a councillor, is standing for the party in a constituency believed to be its strongest in the North. Their performance will be closely watched as an indication of whether their arguments are starting to win support among nationalists and republicans.

Candidates:

Colum Eastwood (SDLP)
Rachael Ferguson (ALL)
Darren Guy (UUP)
Shaun Harkin (PbP)
Elisha McCallion (SF)
Anne McCloskey (Aontú)
Gary Middleton (DUP)

2017 share of vote:

SF - 39.7%
SDLP - 39.3%
DUP - 16.1%
PbP - 3%
ALL - 1.8%

WEST TYRONE

Sinn Féin appear certain to retain one of the safest seats in this general election.

The party has already weathered the storm from the fallout of Barry McElduff’s resignation last year in the wake of a controversial social media video he posted on the anniversary of the Kingsmill atrocity.

Sinn Féin did take a hit in the ensuing May 2018 by-election, where the turnout fell to 55 per cent. But even with their share slipping by four per cent, solicitor Órfhlaith Begley had 7,956 votes to spare over her nearest rival, the DUP’s Tom Buchanan.

Aontú have selected Connacht native James Hope to stand in West Tyrone. The party took 888 votes in the Omagh half of the constituency in May and will look to build on that platform come December 12.

Candidates:

Órfhlaith Begley (SF)
Thomas Buchanan (DUP)
Stephen Donnelly (ALL)
Susan Glass (Greens)
James Hope (Aontú)
Daniel McCrossan (SDLP)
Andy McKane (UUP)

2017 share of vote:

SF - 46.7%
DUP - 23.9%
SDLP - 17.9%
UUP - 8.3%
ALL - 3.2%

SOUTH ANTRIM

Nationalist votes in this constituency are likely to be cast tactically in favour of the least-worst unionist.

This is a constituency which once boasted the highest level of support for the Ulster Unionist Party anywhere in the north. In recent decades, a ‘tug of war’ contest has seen the seat switch back and forth between the UUP and DUP five times in the past 20 years.

DUP candidate Paul Girvan, who caused controversy as a rabidly loyalist ‘Minister for Culture’, won the seat for the party in 2017. A lot of nationalist support will go to the the leading anti-Brexit candidate, Danny Kinahan of the UUP.

Sinn Féin’s candidate is Declan Kearney, who topped the poll in South Antrim in the 2017 assembly election.

Candidates:

John Blair (ALL)
Paul Girvan (DUP)
Declan Kearney (SF)
Danny Kinahan (UUP)
Roisin Lynch (SDLP)

2017 share of vote:

DUP - 38.2%
UUP - 30.8%
SF - 18.1%
ALL - 7.4%
SDLP - 5.4%

LAGAN VALLEY

Incumbent DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson could take over Nigel Dodds’s position as the DUP’s Westminster leader come December 13, if Dodds loses his seat in North Belfast.

The successor to former UUP leader James Molyneaux when the latter retired in 1997 after 15 years as its MP, the rising star of the party subsequently defected to the DUP, but retained a huge vote which looks insurmountable, at least for now.

Sinn Féin Gary McCleave is the first republican to win a seat since the creation of the new council here and will seek to solidify the gain with any growth in the 1,567 votes of 2017.

Candidates:

Robbie Butler (UUP)
Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP)
Sorcha Eastwood (ALL)
Ally Haydock (SDLP)
Gary Hynds (Cons)
Alan Love (UKIP)
Gary McCleave (SF)

2017 share of vote:

DUP - 59.6%
UUP - 16.8%
ALL - 11.1%
SDLP - 7.5%
SF - 3.5%
Cons - 1%
Ind - 0.5%

EAST ANTRIM

Nationalist interest will be to measure the success of Sinn Féin’s Oliver McMullan efforts to pick up votes, but the DUP’s Sammy Wilson will be considering the race over already.

Mr Wilson has held the seat in this unionist heartland since 2005 and shows no signs of being deposed, not even by his closest rival, newly-appointed Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken.

However, some traditionally DUP voters may be unhappy at a Brexit deal and will defect to the Ulster Unionists. Any decrease in Wilson’s vote will likely be interpreted as a vote against a hard Brexit.

Candidates:

Steve Aiken (UUP)
Danny Donnelly (ALL)
Oliver McMullan (SF)
Angela Mulholland (SDLP)
Philip Randle (Greens)
Aaron Rankin (NI Cons)
Sammy Wilson (DUP)

2017 share of vote:

DUP 57.3%
Alliance 15.6%
UUP 11.9%
Sinn Féin 9.3%
SDLP 3.4%
NI Conservatives 2.5%

UPPER BANN

Sitting MP David Simpson is not defending the seat he won from former UUP leader David Trimble in 2005 after it emerged last year he had an affair with a party colleague.

His DUP replacement Carla Lockhart, who is a sitting councillor at Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, will be viewed as the clear favourite to retake the seat. Whether the affair scandal has done any damage to the DUP brand remains to be seen.

In 2017 Mr Simpson’s nearest rival was Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd, who polled 14,325 votes, who is contesting the seat again as the leading nationalist. The long-serving republican will hope to reaffirm his role in north Armagh with a strong vote after failing to win the role of Sinn Féin deputy leader from Michelle O’Neill at the party’s annual conference

Candidates:

Doug Beattie (UUP)
Dolores Kelly (SDLP)
Carla Lockhart (DUP)
John O’Dowd (SF)
Éoin Tennyson (ALL)

2017 share of vote:

DUP - 43.5%
SF- 27.9%
UUP - 15.4%
SDLP - 8.6%
ALL - 4.5%

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