Lagan Valley: Jenny Palmer may not be able to stop DUP juggernaut

Poor vote management may have cost UUP second seat in 2011, and it will struggle again

The Northern Ireland Assembly election will take place on Thursday, May 5th. Each of the 18 constituencies – including Lagan Valley – will elect six Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).

The Northern Ireland Assembly election will take place on Thursday, May 5th. Each of the 18 constituencies – including Lagan Valley – will elect six Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).

 

If the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are to replicate its impressive performance in Lagan Valley at the 2011 Assembly election, it means winning four of the six seats.

All four DUP MLAs – Paul Givan, Jonathan Craig, Edwin Poots and Brenda Hale – are running again in a constituency that’s currently represented at Westminster by party colleague Jeffrey Donaldson.

The British army headquarters in Northern Ireland is located at Thiepval barracks in the constituency, as is top security Maghaberry Prison, the focus of ongoing difficulties between prison authorities and dissident republican inmates.

The former Maze-Long Kesh prison site is also in the constituency and, while part of it has been regenerated, its future development has been the focus of rows at Stormont. Lagan Valley also incorporates Lisburn, and is home to the village of Hillsborough, where Queen Elizabeth’s official residence in Northern Ireland is located.

The other two outgoing MLAs are Trevor Lunn of the Alliance Party and NI21 leader Basil McCrea, who was elected as an Ulster Unionist.

Mr McCrea, following the implosion of NI21 and other personal travails, announced last month he has become disillusioned with politics in Northern Ireland and would therefore not be running for elected office again.

What will be interesting is how well former DUP councillor Jenny Palmer does as the Ulster Unionist Party candidate.

Ms Palmer and her husband, John Palmer, both quit the DUP amid claims that she had been “bullied” by the party.

She was recruited by Mike Nesbitt. The UUP leader has carefully selected candidates who, he believes, could dent the DUP’s domination of unionist politics.


Lagan Valley factfile

How the constituency compares

2.4%

Unemployment claimants
Level: low. Rank: 15 of 18

4.4%

Levels of poor health
Level: low. Rank: 16 of 18

Religion


In July 2013, Ms Palmer told the BBC Spotlight programme that she had been ordered by a DUP special adviser, Stephen Brimstone, to change the way she intended to vote at a Housing Executive board meeting which had been called to terminate a contract with the maintenance firm, Red Sky.

The DUP denied wrongdoing in the messy public row.

A very motivated Ms Palmer will be canvassing hard in the lead up to the election in the hope of taking a seat at Stormont after May 5th.

In 2011, Edwin Poots topped the poll with 7,329 votes, followed by Basil McCrea with 5,771 for the UUP and Alliance’s Trevor Lunn with 4,389.

Paul Givan took the second seat for the DUP with 4,352 votes, Jonathan Craig the third with 4,263 votes and Brenda Hale made it four with just 2,910 votes.

In 2011, Sinn Féin lost their seat to the DUP, thanks to boundary changes.

Commentators said the UUP could have taken a second seat, but poor vote management cost it dearly and resulted in the DUP jumping from three to four seats at the time.

Pat Catney is running again for the SDLP.

He won 2,165 votes in 2011, so would have to greatly improve his vote-attractiveness to be in contention this time around.

Mike Nesbitt has selected Cllr Robert Butler to run with Ms Palmer for the UUP. The UUP leader claims the public is tired of the DUP/Sinn Féin carve-up at Stormont, and unionist voters could be drawn back to the Ulster Unionist fold after years of decline since the Good Friday Agreement. And he believes some of the gloss has worn off the DUP and that this may become evident in Lagan Valley.

Prediction

The DUP will be hoping to maintain its dominance. The UUP missed out on a second seat last time due to poor vote management and may miss out again – it will be difficult to shift the DUP from its four seats.

The result could be:

DUP (4); UUP (1); Alliance (1).

Candidates
Dan Barrios-O’Neill (Greens)
Robbie Butler (UUP)
Pat Catney (SDLP)
Jonathan Craig (DUP)
Peter Dynes (NI Lab Rep)
Paul Givan (DUP)
Brenda Hale (DUP)
Brian Higginson (Ukip)
Jack Irwin (Conservatives)
Trevor Lunn (Alliance)
Frazer McCammond (Democracy First)
Jacqui McGeough (Sinn Féin)
Jonny Orr (Ind)
Jenny Palmer (UUP)
Edwin Poots (DUP)
Lyle Rea (TUV)