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Assembly Election 2017: East Belfast

The Titanic Belfast building, Harland and Wolff cranes and the Odyssey. Picture by Jonathan Campbell
Brendan Hughes

THE story of the election contest in East Belfast is likely to be whether embattled DUP veteran Robin Newton will lose his seat.

As Stormont speaker, Mr Newton just weeks ago faced a no confidence motion following criticism over his handling of assembly debates on RHI and loyalist community organisation Charter NI.

The 71-year-old apologised to the assembly in November for not declaring his links to Charter NI when he ruled against an urgent debate on its funding.

He was also criticised by MLAs in December for allowing then First Minister Arlene Foster to make a statement on RHI without the backing of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

The DUP may have retained three East Belfast MLAs last year, but the reduction in seats from six to five this time puts one of them in jeopardy.

Joanne Bunting, who replaced ex-DUP leader Peter Robinson on the ticket last year, topped the poll in May to secure her seat.

Colleague Sammy Douglas also retained his seat with relative ease. The outgoing MLA is stepping down and his son, constituency office worker David Douglas, will instead be contesting the election.

But Mr Newton - he had the fewest first-preference votes of the three - was the last MLA to be elected and retained his seat under quota.

The drop in assembly seats from 108 to 90 across the north will inevitably lead to political casualties, and Mr Newton could be among them.

The DUP continued its dominance in East Belfast last year, but its share of the first-preference vote was squeezed from 44 per cent in 2011 to 37 per cent.

By contrast, Alliance gained further support with its share of first preferences rising from 26 to 28 per cent.

Alliance leader Naomi Long returned to Stormont last year after losing her Westminster seat in 2015 to a unionist pact in support of the DUP's Gavin Robinson.

She and her constituency colleague Chris Lyttle should easily be returned to Stormont, especially given that the party is running just two candidates this time.

The UUP will also be seeking to hold onto its seat in the north's most Protestant constituency – the only UUP MLA in Belfast.

The party's candidate Andy Allen was electorally untested before the last election, but proved extremely transfer-friendly to win the seat.

With the UUP running just one candidate this year instead of last year's two, it should bolster support for the Army veteran and help consolidate his mandate.

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CANDIDATES

Andy Allen (UUP)

Sheila Bodel (Con)

Joanne Bunting (DUP)

Séamas de Faoite (SDLP)

David Douglas (DUP)

Andrew Girvin (TUV)

John Kyle (PUP)

Naomi Long (All)

Chris Lyttle (All)

Jordy McKeag (Ind)

Georgina Milne (Green)

Robin Newton (DUP)

Mairéad O'Donnell (SF)

Courtney Robinson (Cross-Community Labour Alternative)

2016 share of first preference votes

DUP 36.7%

All 28.7%

UUP 11.1%

Green 5.9%

PUP 4.8%

SF 2.5%

TUV 2.4%

Other 7.9%

Seats won in 2016

DUP 3

All 2

UUP 1

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