Lagan Valley: DUP and UUP fight to hold onto seats

Recent Stormont scandals make result in Northern election on March 2nd hard to call

Brenda Hale will stand for the Democratic Unionist Party in Lagan Valley.

Brenda Hale will stand for the Democratic Unionist Party in Lagan Valley.

 

The DUP and UUP are fighting to hold on to the Assembly seats they won last year in Lagan Valley, where the scene is set for one of the most closely fought electoral battles in unionism.

Last May, the DUP won three seats, the UUP took two and the Alliance Party one. The DUP has a fight on its hands in the constituency to retain its three seats, and so is fielding just three candidates – Paul Givan, Edwin Poots and Brenda Hale – this year instead of four.

A party spokesman said the DUP hopes to repeat its vote management performance in Belfast North last year. All three candidates there were returned within a few hundred votes of each other. “We are taking nothing for granted in Lagan Valley, we are fighting hard in the area and are positive we can do it,” he said.

The possible impact of recent Stormont scandals – such as the “cash for ash” Renewable Heat Incentive scheme which was intended to encourage users to switch to sustainable sources – combined with the vagaries of PR elections, and the reduction of seat numbers from six to five in each constituency means Lagan Valley’s result after March 2nd is a hard one to call.

We are taking nothing for granted in Lagan Valley, we are fighting hard in the area and are positive we can do it

Butler at your service

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt will be keen to ensure his party holds the two seats it won last year. On the ballot paper is Robbie Butler, who has made a play on his surname, presenting himself in social media as someone “at your service”. He is running again with Jenny Palmer, who was elected as a UUP MLA in 2016 after she had quit the DUP over bullying allegations.

The DUP denied wrongdoing after Ms Palmer alleged a party figure had ordered her to change the way she intended to vote at a Housing Executive board meeting called to terminate a contract with the maintenance firm, Red Sky.

A UUP spokesman says Alliance voters may be considering where to put their votes and identifies that the DUP represents its primary competitor but says it is offering the public “two great candidates that made an impact in a short space of time and people are very clear as to what Robbie Butler and Jenny Palmer stand for”.

There has been an Alliance Party seat in Lagan Valley since 1998. The party is confident of retaining the seat that transfer-friendly candidate Trevor Lunn has held since 2007. Alliance usually gets a chunk of transfers from the SDLP once its members are eliminated.

The UUP’s second seat looks to be the most vulnerable in Lagan Valley, according to commentators, provided Alliance can again attract votes among the non-unionist candidates.

 

‘Professional tier’

Pat Catney is back on the ballot paper for the SDLP. This year the Sinn Féin candidate is Queen’s University law lecturer Dr Peter Doran, noted as perhaps a signal of the party’s intention to attract a new professional tier of politician.

Alliance usually gets a chunk of transfers from the SDLP once its members are eliminated

Sinn Féin took 1,045 votes last year so it is unlikely to seriously challenge for a seat this time in the predominantly unionist constituency.

Dr Doran has kept a relatively low profile during the campaign but has attracted criticism from unionist candidates for expressing “profound sorrow” rather than condemnation when asked about the IRA murder of a Queen’s academic Edgar Graham who was killed on campus in the 1980s.

The city of Lisburn is in Lagan Valley, as is top security Maghaberry prison and Hillsborough Castle, the queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland.