Election 2019 – Northern Ireland seats

Some pointers on the key parties and seats in Northern Ireland, where the 2019 elections raise a number of key questions: 

Will unionist voters stick with the DUP in the wake of Boris Johnson's Brexit deal, or punish its MPs for sustaining Johnson's Government? Can the UUP benefit from their rivals discomfiture, or are they inextricably bound together in the cause of unionist unity? Could it be the emerging anti-Brexit force of Alliance which profits instead? 

Will the tribulations of Brexit reinforce nationalists' 2017 decision to opt for Sinn Fein, a party focused on Dublin and Brussels rather than Westminster, or lead them to reconsider in favour of the SDLP?

The Big Five Parties

DUP: The Northern Ireland elements of Johnson's Brexit deal have been a huge blow to the party which sustained the Conservatives in government, creating a potential opening for rival unionists. That may be limited by the impulse towards unionist unity, maximising representation in opposition to a united Ireland, an imperative that has proved powerful in the past.

Key targets: North Down. Key defences: South Belfast, North Belfast, South Antrim.

Sinn Féin:A strong performance in 2017 saw Sinn Féin sweeping the board of their nationalist rivals. This time around the scope for gains is accordingly narrower, with some potentially tricky defences in those newly-won seats. 

Key targets: North Belfast. Key defences: Fermanagh & South Tyrone, Foyle.

SDLP: 2017 left the SDLP as a parliamentary nationalist party without a parliamentary seat.  A small number of key battles will determine whether it gets back to Westminster.

Key targets: Foyle, South Belfast, South Down.

UUP: Another party that was wiped out in 2017. Anger at the DUP over Johnson's deal is a potential windfall, but it is not clear if the UUP is strong enough to benefit, and pressure for unionist unity may limit the party's scope for growth, even if it offers a potential leg-up from the DUP in one or two places.

Key targets: Fermanagh & South Tyrone. South Antrim.

Alliance: The cross-community party has only ever won one Westminster seat, but it has prospered lately in part due to it strong support for remaining in the EU. It will be a key challenger in a number of seats in its heartlands around Greater Belfast and may be emerging as a significant force elsewhere.

Key targets: South Belfast, East Belfast

The constituencies

East Belfast: It was a huge shock when Alliance took this seat in 2010. The DUP regained it 2015 and extended their lead in 2017. If the consolidation of the unionist unwinds and Alliance continue their recent momentum, it could become competitive again, but the DUP are still favourites.

North Belfast: Sinn Féin have been targeting this seat for years, and the DUP's Nigel Dodds may be vulnerable in the wake of Johnson's Brexit deal. Sinn Fein's ability to squeeze the SDLP vote had probably reached its limits here, and the SDLP had a potentially strong candidate in Nichola Mallon, so their decision to stand down in this seat could be a game-changer.

South Belfast: The DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly won this seat from the SDLP in 2017. The defeat was also an opening for Alliance's Paula Bradshaw to emerge as a contender, but the SDLP is still the main challenger on the numbers from last time, and in Claire Hanna, they have strong candidate to take back the seat. Sinn Fein's decision to stand down here could be the clincher.

West Belfast: A Sinn Féin seat since 1997, and Paul Maskey actually increased his share of the vote in 2017, as People Before Profit faded. While the outcome looks in little doubt, the details will be a useful indicator for a future assembly election.

North Down: The seat held by independent unionist Sylvia Hermon has long been a DUP target. Although current circumstances don't look propitious, they are still in with a chance. Although Sinn Féin and the SDLP are standing down, it is Alliance whose vote Hermon will need to squeeze if she is to survive.

Strangford:  Jim Shannon won a huge majority for the DUP in a 2017 election which saw Alliance overtake the UUP. That battle for second place may be the most interesting this time around.

Lagan Valley: Jeffrey Donaldson has long been one of Northern Ireland's most reliable vote-getters, and this is another seat that should be safe for the DUP.

Upper Bann: This was a competitive three way fight between the DUP, UUP and Sinn Féin in 2015, before David Simpson consolidated the DUP's majority in 2017. It's a moot point whether recent developments will cause that to unwind or consolidate, but Simpson should be safe this time.

South Down: One of the SDLP heartland seats that Sinn Féin took in 2017. Slightly less marginal than Foyle, it will still be a tight race.

Newry & Armagh: Micky Brady trebled Sinn Féin's majority here in 2017, so this should be a safe hold.

Fermanagh & South Tyrone: Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew lost this seat to the UUP in 2015 before winning it back two years later. The DUP have already announced they are standing down in the UUP's favour this time around, so expect another tight contest.

Mid Ulster: Sinn Fein's Francie Molloy won more than double the vote of the second-placed DUP in 2017, so this looks like another safe seat.

West Tyrone: Sinn Féin's majority has been trending downwards here in recent elections, but this is still another seat that looks fairly safe.

Foyle: It felt as if the electorate in Derry almost shocked itself when it opted for Sinn Féin in this longstanding SDLP stronghold in 2017. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is bidding to overturn Elisha McCallion's 169 majority in what may be the tightest race in Northern Ireland.

East Londonderry: Competitive in the past this now looks like another safe seat for the DUP as the unionist vote has consolidated behind Gregory Campbell.

North Antrim: The failure of recall petition in 2018 suggests Ian Paisley Jr's seat is fairly safe for the DUP. The performance of the UUP and TUV willl nevertheless be worth watching for signs of discontent.

East Antrim: This should be another safe DUP seat for Sammy Wilson, although it's worth watching how far Alliance can build on their second place performance in 2017.

South Antrim: This is the most interesting inter-unionist battle, having changed hands twice in recent elections. A return to Westminster for Danny Kinahan may be the UUP's best hope of benefitting from the DUP's discomfiture at Boris Johnson's Brexit deal.






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