South Antrim: One of three DUP MLAs likely to lose seat

Anti-abortion group set to campaign in constituency against Alliance’s David Ford

 David Ford: has pledged to re-submit   Bill on abortion reform if re-elected. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

David Ford: has pledged to re-submit Bill on abortion reform if re-elected. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

With the number of Assembly seats in each of Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies dropping from six to five, the DUP is the likely victim in South Antrim as it currently holds three.

Last year, the result in South Antrim was three DUP MLAs, one Sinn Féin, one Ulster Unionist and one Alliance.

The 2016 poll topper Paul Girvan, who took 5,014 (14.3 per cent) first-preference votes, and his DUP colleagues Pam Cameron and Trevor Clarke are in the running again.

Mr Girvan and Ms Cameron should be safe, but perhaps Mr Clarke’s seat is at risk as the quota rises from 14.3 per cent to 16.7 per cent and the DUP is trying to defend three seats with 2.3 quotas.

As in all constituencies, the fallout from the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme could see a swing against the DUP as it has been the party most closely linked to the controversial green energy programme.

Even if the DUP was to get its vote balanced as evenly as possible, sources on the ground indicate it is highly unlikely that it will hold three seats, though two should be achievable.

David Ford, Alliance’s ex-leader and a former Stormont justice minister, is likely to be safe. He has a personal vote, will benefit from nationalist transfers, and should be returned in the constituency he has served since 1998.

Mr Ford’s attempted private member’s Bill to reform the law around termination of pregnancy in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities was one of the casualties of the end of the Assembly term. He has pledged, if re-elected, to submit the proposed legislation again, which has resulted in the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Spuc) to announce it will campaign in the area with an anti-abortion message.

Spuc says it will be targeting South Antrim with a leafleting campaign and is urging supporters of its message to vote strategically. However, the impact is not expected to be significant.

Alliance should retain its seat and Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin’s national chairman, is likely to take most of the nationalist vote in the constituency.

SDLP challenge

The SDLP will challenge Sinn Féin, but there are not two nationalist quotas in the constituency, so Declan Kearney should retain his seat.

In 2016, there was a 1.4 nationalist quota, so unless there is a dramatic move away from Sinn Féin it is unlikely that Roisin Lynch of the SDLP, who took 3,366 first-preference votes last time, will come close to Kearney, who took 4,632.

The Ulster Unionist Party is running two candidates this time instead of three. In 2016, economy spokesman Stephen Aiken won 3,280 first preferences, Paul Michael took 2,565 and Adrian Cochrane-Watson just 1,947.

Mr Aiken is likely to win a seat, Mr Michael is not in the running and Cochrane-Watson, who finished 166 votes behind Mr Clarke of the DUP, is not a favourite.

It would appear that the only way the Ulster Unionists could take a second seat would be if the party took David Ford’s, and that does not seem likely.

The Greens, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), People Before Profit (PBP), the Conservatives and Independent David McMaster are also on the ballot paper.

This is the first time the PBP, which got two MLAs elected to Stormont last year, has challenged for a seat in South Antrim. The party’s candidate is Ivanka Antova, an academic, originally from Bulgaria, who is not well known in the constituency but represents a socialist alternative.

Last time out, first-preference votes for the smaller parties ranged from 72 (Conservatives) to 1,318 (TUV), so unless there is a major swing against the main parties their election campaigns are more about offering alternatives and perhaps building toward council seats.

South Antrim is made up of urban and rural areas, such as the main towns of Antrim and Ballyclare, plus Doagh, Randalstown and Templepatrick, where Belfast International Airport is based. It is represented at Westminster by the UUP’s Danny Kinahan MP, who won the seat in 2015 from the DUP.

Prediction

Five rather than six seats are in contention this time. The DUP looks to be the likely loser in South Antrim as it is defending three seats with a 2.3 quota.

The result could be: DUP – 2; UUP – 1; Alliance – 1; Sinn Féin – 1.

Candidates

DUP: Paul Girvan, Pam Cameron, Trevor Clarke

UUP: Steve Aiken, Adrian Cochrane-Watson

Alliance: David Ford

Sinn Féin: Declan Kearney

Conservatives: Mark Logan

Green Party: Eleanor Bailey

Independent: David McMaster

People Before Profit: Ivanka Antova

SDLP: Roisin Lynch

Traditional Unionist Voice: Richard Cairns