North Down: Greens face big battle as UUP target second seat

DUP MLAs – Gordon Dunne, Alex Easton and Peter Weir – all likely to be returned

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

 

North Down is a predominantly unionist constituency – one which has never elected a nationalist MLA.

Located on the Ards Peninsula, bordering the southern shores of Belfast Lough, the affluent area takes in towns such as Bangor, Holywood and Donaghadee.

It has a big commuter population, so strong policies on transport wins favour among the voting public.

The outgoing MLAs are Gordon Dunne, Alex Easton and Peter Weir of the DUP, Ulster Unionist Leslie Cree, Steven Agnew of the Green Party and Stormont’s employment and learning minister Dr Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party.

All three DUP incumbents are likely to be returned. Mr Easton topped the poll in 2011 with 5,175 votes, followed by Mr Dunne with 3,741, and Mr Weir with 3,496 votes.

Fourth on the poll was Alliance’s Dr Farry with 3,131 votes. His running mate this time is former North Down mayor Andrew Muir, who hopes to take a second seat for Alliance – perhaps at the expense of Green Party leader Steven Agnew.

Mr Agnew held his seat in 2011 by the narrowest of margins, just 99 votes ahead of Alliance’s Anne Wilson.

Mr Muir enjoys an increasingly public profile and is a strong candidate, but Mr Agnew has proven very effective at Stormont, where he sits in what is known as the “naughty corner” of the Assembly chamber with the smaller parties and independents. Success in the Assembly in getting his Children’s Bill passed has also assisted his profile.


North Down factfile

How the constituency compares

2.4%

Unemployment claimants
Level: low. Rank: 16 of 18

4.4%

Levels of poor health
Level: low. Rank: 17 of 18

Religion


And he also was to the forefront of welfare reform, being viewed as a voice of reason in his attacks on both DUP and Sinn Féin.

However, he could be hurt by former Alliance Party councillor, and former Green Party leader Brian Wilson, who is standing as an independent.

With Leslie Cree stepping down, the UUP has decided to run three candidates, which could split its vote too much if not managed properly.

It is likely that former mayor Alan Chambers will take the seat vacated by Mr Cree. He enjoyed success as an independent unionist councillor before it was announced recently he had been enticed by UUP leader Mike Nesbitt to stand for the party.

The party has liberalised to a certain degree under Mr Nesbitt’s leadership and this might have some attraction for supporters of Lady Sylvia Hermon, the independent unionist MP for the constituency.

Depending on the mood in the constituency, the UUP could be in with a chance of a second seat in North Down, but it will be a hard battle.

The other two candidates in the UUP line-up with Alan Chambers are Los Angeles-born Chris Eisenstadt and Cllr Carl McClean, a former PwC tax consultant.

Prediction

One political commentator said recently, “North Down likes its mavericks”.

In the past, it voted for Bob McCartney of UKUP, and the current Westminster MP is independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon.

There is a small chance of some surprises in the constituency, but not in the form of an SDLP or Sinn Féin representation.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew is in a tricky position, but reasonably likely to retain his seat.

The result could be:

DUP (3); UUP (1); Alliance (1); Green Party (1).

Candidates
Steven Agnew (Greens)
John Brennan (TUV)
Conal Browne (SDLP)
Chris Eisenstadt (UUP)
Alan Chambers (UUP)
Gordon Dunne (DUP)
Alex Easton (DUP)
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
Maria Lourenco (NI Labour Rep)
Therese McCartney (Sinn Féin)
Carl McClean (UUP)
Andrew Muir (Alliance)
Bill Piper (Ukip)
Frank Shivers (Conservatives)
Peter Weir (DUP)
Brian Wilson (Ind)