What to watch for – Northern Ireland

With just days to go until the country goes to the polls, Left Foot Forward assesses what to look out for on election Night in Northern Ireland.

With just three days to go till the country goes to the polls, Left Foot Forward marks your card with a series of articles exploring the main election night talking points across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We begin with Northern Ireland’s 18 seats.

Following the 2005 General election, the results were:

Party No of seats Share of the vote
DUP 9 (+4) 33.7%
Sinn Fein 5 (+1) 24.3%
SDLP 3 (-) 17.5%
UUP 1 (-5) 17.8%
Alliance 0 (-) 3.9%

In Northern Ireland, the key issue when results come through will be what it means for the future of unionism, and in particular what the effect will be of Jim Allister’s anti-agreement Traditional Unionist VoiceThe TUV go into the election having captured 13.7% of the vote in last year’s European Elections after less than 2 years in existence.

With the DUP going into the election following a series of allegations over the conduct of its leader Peter Robinson, and persistent concerns over the electoral alliance between the Conservatives and the UUP, the TUV’s presence has the potential to fracture the unionist vote, helping republicans in seats not thought to be their strongholds.

The other major issue for unionism will be what happens to the electoral force created by the alliance between the UUP and Conservatives, dubbed by the UUP’s former deputy leader Lord Kilclooney as being akin to a “mongrel relationship”.

Furthermore, the pact led the UUP’s only MP in Westminster, Lady Sylvia Hermon, to announce she would be standing as an independent in her North Down constituency – and David Cameron will have done himself no favours after telling Jeremy Paxman that Northern Ireland would be first in line for cuts under a Tory government.

All eyes will be on North Down. If Lady Sylvia wins her seat, it will be seen as an outright rejection of David Cameron’s meddling in Northern Ireland. If this does happen, expect to see the UUP/Conservative alliance failing to win any seats in Westminster, with Reg Sir Empey likely to step down as leader in such a position.

The DUP goes into the election with any game plan it had torn up by Peter Robinson’s decision to step down temporarily at the beginning of the year in order to clear his name over alleged improprieties in his wife’s financial dealings. Though cleared, further allegations over the circumstances in which he and his wife Iris brought some land near their home has continued the drip drip of bad headlines for the DUP. With the TUV breathing down their necks, the Belfast Telegraph has concluded that:

“The DUP leadership face a tough election.”

Sinn Fein go into the election on something of a high. After many years calling for it, they were able to use Peter Robinson’s weakened position to secure the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont, and a new plan for reforming the regulation of parades. Expect Sinn Fein to remain the largest republican/nationalist party after Thursday, possibly with a larger group of MPs.

For the SDLP, under its still relatively new leader, Margaret Ritchie, the goal will be to maintain the position they hold now, having struggled to find their voice as they have persistently been forced to rule out suggestions they should merge with Finna Fail and enter into some sort of pact with Sinn Fein in South Belfast and Fermanagh and South Tyrone. With unionists targeting the SDLP held seat in South Belfast, Ritchie will do well to maintain her current contingent of 3 MPs.

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5 Responses to “What to watch for – Northern Ireland”

  1. Paris Gourtsoyannis

    RT @leftfootfwd: What to watch for – Northern Ireland: http://bit.ly/cFDHGV

  2. Kevin

    Sinn Féin possibly increasing their share of MPs? They are facing an extremely tough battle to keep Fermanagh/South Tyrone in the face of a joint Unionist candidate and there is no seat they have any prospect of taking with the possible exception of an extremely long-distance shot at North Belfast due to split Unionism. I fail to see how they’re going to increase their share- they’re more likely to lose one!

  3. Peter

    I live in South Belfast. The SDLP will probably be safe as Sinn Fein have withdrawn and the unionist vote is split between the DUP and UCNF. If the SDLP do not keep 3 seats it will be a big blow to Ritchie who has had a poor campaign – especially a terrible showing in the leaders’ debate last week.
    For novices to our system the important thing to remember is that it is not Nationalist v Unionist. Rather those allegences are pretty fixed and the battle is within the tribes. Robinson is probably safe but watch his majority. There is an agreed Unionist candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone which who is likely to take the seat from Sinn Fein.

    There have been some slight signs of a new politics emerging. Sinn Fein’s policy of not taking their seats is coming under more criticism. This will probably intensify if Cameron wins as he is less likely to negotiate directly with them than Blair was. There has been more discussion of issues like corporation tax and public sector jobs than before.

  4. Ed Jacobs

    These are simply predictions. Guess we’ll see what happens on Thursday. Question though – if we have a hung Parliament where Sinn Fein could wieled some influence, would they then be tempted to take their seats? One for a debate I think.

  5. Peter

    Ed, I can’t see SF taking seats for at least another parliament. They would probably split the party if they did so – it is a serious ideological issue for them, not just a tactic. Anyway they would have real problems doing any deal with the Conservatives, especially given that party’s connection to the UUP. The Tories are now untouchable by any Irish nationalist party. There is also the fact that most of what SF want is provided by the devolved parliament. If Westminster cuts the block grant that just allows SF to argue that the Union is failing, if it doesn’t they will claim credit for spending the result.

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