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Constituency Notebook 2017: South Belfast

Queen's University in the heart of South Belfast

WITH the greatest respect to Ulster Unionist assembly election debutante Michael Henderson and several other candidates, there's little chance of seeing any new faces elected in South Belfast on March 2.

In the unlikely event that Mr Henderson does take one of the five seats available, it would surely be part of an unprecedented UUP resurgence across the north, a scenario which so far appears remote.

The question is therefore which one of the sitting six MLAs will lose out at the polls in this diverse constituency, which takes in the affluent leafy avenues of Malone, inner city working class areas like the loyalist Donegall Pass and the nationalist Market area, along with the more transient community around Queen's University.

South Belfast traditionally has a small unionist majority and also a significant middle ground.

This diversity is reflected in the constituency's representation at Stormont, which following last May's election, includes two DUP seats and one each for Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Greens and Alliance.

The last election saw the SDLP lose what had always been a vulnerable seat, making way for the Greens' Clare Bailey, who out-polled Alliance's Paula Bradshaw with first preference votes.

Alliance had been hopeful of taking two seats last time around after Anna Lo topped the poll in 2011, receiving nearly 2,000 votes more than the second placed candidate. However, significant growth in support for the Greens between elections thwarted that outcome.

Alliance is again optimistically fielding two candidates, selecting the nationalist-friendly gaeilgeoir Emmett McDonagh-Brown for the first time alongside Ms Bradshaw, who just six years ago stood under the Ulster Unionist-Conservative's ill-fated Ucunf banner.

The SDLP is again running two candidates, with incumbent Claire Hanna being joined by her election agent from last May, Naomh Gallagher. The nationalist party can be confident of retaining its seat but the chances of securing a second are remote. If voting patterns are similar to last May, the Greens will pick up a large chunk of SDLP transfers.

Sinn Féin's high-profile finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, the party's business-friendly face, is also assured of a seat though his previous inability to pick up a significant number of transfers from other candidates leaves open the possibility of an upset.

Arguably, the most interesting battle in the constituency is between the DUP's two candidates, former Belfast mayor Christopher Stalford and Peter Robinson's protégée Emma Little-Pengelly. The party gained one seat at the expense of the UUP last May, however, the growing realisation that it may be one or the other that'll be returned to Stormont on March 2 has led to speculation that relations between the two are becoming increasingly strained.

Candidates:

Clare Bailey (Green)

Paula Bradshaw (All)

Emmet McDonough-Brown (All)

Naomh Gallagher (SDLP)

Claire Hanna (SDLP)

Pádraigín Mervyn (PBP)

Sean Burns (Cross-Community Lab Alternative)

Micheal Henderson (UUP)

John Hiddleston (TUV)

George Jabbour (NI Con)

Emma Little Pengelly (DUP)

Christopher Stalford (DUP)

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (SF)

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2016 share of first preference vote:

DUP 22%

SDLP 20%

All 16.4%

SF 14.2%

Green: 9.6%

Cross-Community Labour Alternative 2.4%

UKIP 2.2%

Other 6.6%

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Seats won in 2016

DUP 2

SDLP 1

Sinn Féin 1

All 1

Green 1

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