Belfast South: Intense rivalry as parties jostle for position
Deepest enmity between the DUP and one of its former leading lights – Ruth Patterson
The Northern Ireland Assembly election will take place on Thursday, May 5th. Each of the 18 constituencies – including Belfast South – will elect six Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
There will be intense rivalry, as the SDLP seeks to retain its two seats, Sinn Féin tries to hold on to its single seat, Alliance looks to rise from one to two seats, and the Ulster Unionists attempts to maintain its single seat.
However, the deepest enmity will be between the DUP and one of its former leading lights in this constituency, Ruth Patterson. To paraphrase a famous phrase, hell hath no fury like a politician scorned, and Ms Patterson certainly feels she was unjustifiably dumped by the DUP and its former leader and First Minister Peter Robinson.
In the 2011 Assembly election, Ms Patterson almost won a second seat for the DUP, taking a total of 3,800 first preferences, but narrowly failing to gain enough second and third preferences to join party colleague Jimmy Spratt in Stormont.
Certainly, she felt that when Mr Spratt stood down for health reasons in September last year she would be co-opted to replace him. Instead, Mr Robinson appointed one of his protégées, 36-year-old Emma Pengelly. Ms Pengelly’s running mate in South Belfast is Belfast councillor, Christopher Stalford, a veteran of several elections who has a solid base in the constituency.
Within four weeks of her co-option, Ms Pengelly – a barrister who served as special advisor to both Ian Paisley and Mr Robinson in the First Minister’s office – was fast-tracked to the plum post of junior Minister.
This further added to the ire of Ms Patterson, a Belfast city councillor, who made her displeasure known to the media to such an extent she was expelled from the DUP.
Belfast South factfile
How the constituency compares
Level: high. Rank: 14 of 1 8
Levels of poor health
Level: high. Rank: 13 of 18
She is now standing as an independent unionist and with ironic calculation has appointed loyalist blogger, Jamie Bryson, as her campaign manager. Mr Bryson was the man who alleged to an Assembly finance committee that Peter Robinson was to gain from the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland property portfolio to US investment giant Cerberus – a claim vehemently denied by the former DUP leader.
And there are other cut-throat battles in South Belfast.
The former Ulster Unionist health Minister and outgoing South Belfast MLA Michael McGimpsey has retired from frontline politics with Rodney McCune seeking to hold on to the UUP’s single seat. He polled a respectable 3,549 votes in last year’s Westminster election, but is facing a threat from Alliance which is seeking to win an extra and second seat in the constituency.
Alliance’s former South Belfast poll-topper Anna Lo has stood down, but it has two high-profile candidates in Paula Bradshaw – who polled 6,711 votes in the Westminster election – and Duncan Morrow, a former head of the North’s Community Relations Council.
The SDLP’s two outgoing MLAs, deputy leader Fearghal McKinney and Claire Hanna – curiously the only outgoing Assembly member to live in the constituency – are also in a serious scrap to hold those two seats.
Both were co-opted to the Assembly when former leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell and Conall McDevitt stood down from Stormont. The intensity of the competition between them just could be enough to get out the SDLP vote in South Belfast.
Sinn Féin is standing just one candidate, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who seems assured of being elected.
It seems certain there is a seat each in South Belfast for the SDLP, DUP, Alliance and Sinn Féin. Thereafter, it is a crowded field, with the SDLP, DUP, Alliance, UUP, Ms Patterson, and perhaps the Greens, battling for the final two seats.
How it shapes up may depend on who fights the best election campaign. Ms Patterson will shake up the unionist vote in south Belfast, but she could fall short of getting into Stormont.
Very tentatively, it could end up:
SDLP (2); DUP (1); UUP (1); Alliance (1); Sinn Féin (1).
Brigitte Anton (NI Lab Rep)
Clare Bailey (Greens)
Paula Bradshaw (Alliance)
Sean Burns (Labour Alternative)
Billy Dickson (SB Unionists)
Claire Hanna (SDLP)
John Andrew Hiddleston (TUV)
Lily Kerr (Workers Party)
Emma Little Pengelly (DUP)
Ben Manton (Conservatives)
Rodney James McCune (UUP)
Fearghal McKinney (SDLP)
Duncan Morrow (Alliance)
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (Sinn Féin)
Ruth Patterson (Ind)
Ian Shanks (PUP)
Christopher Stalford (DUP)
Bob Stoker (Ukip)