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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