North Antrim: TUV may fall just short of grabbing second seat
DUP likely to maintain dominance in constituency long associated with the Paisleys
The Northern Ireland Assembly election will take place on Thursday, May 5th. Each of the 18 constituencies – including North Antrim – will elect six Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
North Antrim is associated with the Paisleys – the late DUP leader and First Minister, the Rev Ian, who was MP there for 40 years until his son, Ian junior, took over the Westminster seat in 2010.
The father and son Paisleys also served North Antrim in the Assembly from 1998 to 2011. However, since then, with the phasing out of the mandate where politicians could sit both at Stormont and in the House of Commons, the Paisley name has been absent from the Assembly chamber.
As is well known, Dr Paisley softened in his later years, a mellowing that facilitated the Sinn Féin-DUP powersharing deal of March 2007 that, through several convulsions, has managed to stay in place.
Instead, the North Antrim baton of hardline, inflexible unionism and orotund oratory has passed on to his former adherent, Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party. He is the conscience of unforgiving unionism.
Mr Allister could not live with what he still describes as “Sinn Féin-IRA in government”, and in 2007 walked away from the DUP and Dr Paisley to set up the TUV. Unlike Dr Paisley in his later years, there is no give in Mr Allister. In his previous life, he was a QC, an experience which serves him well when thundering out his denunciations of the DUP and “Sinn Féin-IRA” on whatever political pulpit he is standing.
Other politicians might feel envious at the publicity and headlines that Mr Allister garners. But there is no doubt that he makes good copy. He is as caustic as he is eloquent, providing quotable biting comments. In a sense, he has been the main opposition within the powersharing Stormont administration. Not bad for a party with one Assembly member.
He has been effective too. He saw through “Ann’s Law” in the Assembly three years ago. It bans people convicted of serious criminal or paramilitary offences from holding special advisory posts for Northern Executive Ministers.
North Antrim factfile
How the constituency compares
Level: medium. Rank: 8 of 18
Levels of poor health
Level: low. Rank: 14 of 18
It was inspired by the campaign of Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was murdered by the IRA while leaving Mass with her father Tom, a Belfast judge, and mother Joan in south Belfast in 1984. She objected to Mary McArdle, who was involved in her sister’s killing, serving as a Sinn Féin Ministerial spad, or special adviser.
Standing alongside Mr Allister for the TUV in North Antrim this time is 27-year-old Timothy Gaston. A fire, health and safety Officer in Ballymena, he stood against Ian Paisley junior in last year’s Westminster election and polled 6,561 votes.
On that return, he certainly would be elected to the Assembly, but it can be assumed that much of that vote would be destined for Mr Allister. Nonetheless, the TUV believes it has a chance of an extra seat. Party press officer and strategist Sammy Morrison points out that the TUV has been working strenuously to develop Mr Gaston’s profile. He topped the poll in his ward in the super council elections in 2014 and is also deputy mayor of Ballymena.
Mr Morrison says there could be just enough disaffection with the DUP in this Paisley heartland to assist both Mr Allister and Mr Gaston into Stormont.
The current breakdown in North Antrim is three DUP seats, with one each for the TUV, the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Féin.
Robin Swann is well placed to hold on to his seat for the UUP. Outgoing Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay, who chairs the Assembly finance committee investigating the controversial purchase of Nama Northern Ireland property portfolio, also should be safely returned.
The SDLP is standing 28-year-old Connor Duncan to try to regain the seat it lost in 2011. The DUP’s three outgoing MLAs, finance Minister Mervyn Storey, Paul Frew and David McIlveen are running again.
It should be a bitter, hard-fought contest between the DUP and TUV, but it seems a long shot for Mr Allister to bring in a second MLA with him into Stormont in North Antrim.
The status quo should prevail:
DUP (3); TUV (1); UUP (1); Sinn Féin (1).
Jim Allister (TUV)
Donna Anderson (Ukip)
Jennifer Breslin (Green Party)
Connor Duncan (SDLP)
Paul Frew (DUP)
Timothy Gaston (TUV)
Kathryn Johnston (NI Lab Rep)
Phillip Logan (DUP)
Stephen McFarland (Alliance)
David McIlveen (DUP)
Daithí McKay (Sinn Féin)
James Simpson (Conservatives)
Mervyn Storey (DUP)
Robin Swann (UUP)
Andrew Wright (UUP)