Despite attempts by the British and Irish governments to bolster the chances of the “middle ground” parties, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists, both of the latter look poised to suffer serious setbacks.
David Trimble’s stewardship of the UUP is in jeopardy as he faces into a grueling battle with the DUP’s David Simpson in Upper Bann.
Meanwhile SDLP leader Mark Durkan faces a real scrap with Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin in Foyle.
The SDLP’s sitting MP Eddie McGrady is fairly safe in the seat he has held since unseating Ulster Unionist Enoch Powell in 1987. While Sinn Fein has made huge inroads into the SDLP vote over the past seven years, Caitriona Ruane will have her work cut out in surpassing McGrady’s significant majority. The intra-unionist battle between the UUP’s Dermot Nesbitt and the DUP’s Jim Wells should prove to be an interesting sideshow. Prediction: SDLP win.
Newry & Armagh.
Sinn Fein’s coming man Conor Murphy is widely tipped to steal the seat formerly held by SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon. His main opponent is the SDLP’s Dominic Bradley, a local schoolteacher and Irish language enthusiast. A report in a tabloid newspaper at the weekend that alleged that the DUP’s Paul Berry had engaged in a gay sex act may have some bearing on his battle with the UUP’s Danny Kennedy. Prediction: Sinn Fein win.
Fermanagh & South Tyrone
The failure by the two main unionist parties to agree on a unity candidate leaves Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew very likely to hold the seat she won in 2001. The DUP candidate Arlene Foster, who defected from the UUP in early 2004, is reviled by the local UUP organization and will struggle to win a broad unionist endorsement. Prediction: Sinn Fein win.
It will take something special to remove Sinn Fein’s Pat Doherty. The row between the SDLP and independent hospital candidate Kieran Deeny has done neither side any favors. Prediction: Sinn Fein win.
Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness took this seat off the DUP’s Willie McCrea in 1997 and has not looked back since. Prediction: Sinn Fein win.
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This constituency could prove to be pivotal to the long-term futures of both the SDLP and Sinn Fein. SDLP leader Mark Durkan is fighting for his political life against Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin. The margin between the two parties has steadily decreased over the past seven years. Durkan could easily benefit from unionist votes if he is perceived to be in difficulty. A defeat would probably spell the end of his leadership and the party as a significant force in Northern politics. Prediction: SDLP win.
The DUP’s Gregory Campbell has made East Derry his own since 2001. There is little chance of him being unseated. Prediction: DUP win.
Ian Paisley only has to worry about the size of his majority here. Prediction: DUP win.
Ulster Unionist dissident David Burnside is involved in a tight tussle with the DUP’s gospel singing Willie McCrea who has been parachuted in from Mid-Ulster. Burnside, who has been highly critical of party leader David Trimble, will hope that his anti-agreement credentials will pull him through. McCrea’s perceived rural characteristics may work against him in this more urbanized constituency.
Prediction: UUP win.
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson is supremely confident of usurping sitting UUP MP Roy Beggs. Wilson, who has, like Willie McCrea, been parachuted into the constituency from East Belfast, has worked hard to establish a base for himself here. The DUP effectively surpassed the UUP in the 2003 Assembly elections and Wilson should win out. Prediction: DUP win.
The DUP’s Nigel Dodds is sitting pretty in the deeply divided constituency that bore the brunt of the Troubles. Though Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly has increased his profile in recent times, there is little that nationalists can do to remove the DUP man. Prediction: DUP win.
DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson is the sitting MP here and should be assured of an easy victory. Prediction: DUP win.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams is home and dry. The blip in 1992, when the SDLP’s Joe Hendron took the seat on the back of unionist tactical voting, is not likely to be repeated. Sinn Fein strategists reckon that Adams could be dispatched to fight election in another constituency and the party would still hold the seat.
Prediction: Sinn Fein win.
Perhaps the hardest of the 18 constituencies to call. The SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell is hoping to sneak through in the event of a split unionist vote. The DUP’s Jimmy Spratt is facing off against David Trimble’s chief lieutenant Michael McGimpsey. Much will depend on Spratt’s ability to eat into McGimpsey’s core vote. However the sectarian imperative is likely to come into play here with unionists throwing their weight behind the unionist candidate they believe is the most likely to win. The SDLP meanwhile appears to be getting no favors from Sinn Fein voters. Prediction: DUP win.
The DUP is gunning for the UUP’s Sylvia Hermon in the unionist constituency famously referred to as home to the “haves and the have yachts.” Hermon’s campaign to retain her seat suffered something of a setback when UK Unionist leader Bob McCartney withdrew from the race and gave his backing to the DUP. Prediction: UUP win.
Like her husband Peter in East Belfast, Iris Robinson of the DUP is tipped to retain her seat. Prediction: DUP win.
Jeffrey Donaldson holds this seat for the DUP after his defection from the Ulster Unionists in early 2004. Donaldson, who has solidified his support base with concerted opposition to both David Trimble and the Good Friday Agreement in recent years, should have little difficulty in retaining it. Prediction: DUP win.
The UUP once enjoyed a lead of 15,000 over the DUP in Upper Bann but David Trimble has watched as this has been whittled down to a mere 400 votes. His challenger David Simpson is a self-made man, a millionaire and a gospel singer — prime unionist material. Trimble meanwhile has had difficulty canvassing safely in Portadown — where he once danced hand-in-hand with Ian Paisley down the main street after pushing an Orange march down the Garvaghy Road. Trimble has nurtured a reputation as the political cat with nine lives having scraped through numerous leadership and constituency battles. However his time would appear to be up. Prediction: DUP win.
Totals: DUP:9, SF:5, SDLP:2, UUP:2