Assembly Election

East Antrim: UUP battle for second seat in DUP-dominated constituency

Glorious views over the coast at Cushendun.
John Monaghan

IF it was a football championship, East Antrim's assembly election would more than likely resemble France's Ligue 1.

Paris Saint-Germain sauntered to their fourth consecutive title with two months of the season still left to play in March, and in much the same fashion, no-one is expecting any seismic shifts here.

The main focus will be on whether the Ulster Unionists can gain a second seat, or if Ukip will repeat its strong showing in last May's Westminster election, perhaps at the expense of the third DUP MLA or Sinn Féin.

Five of the MLAs elected in 2011 are standing again and the status quo is, in the main, expected to prevail.

The DUP received more than 13,000 - just less than half - of the first preference votes last time around, and is fielding one fewer candidate, with the clear aim of consolidating its three seats.

With the election just six weeks before the Brexit referendum, it remains to be seen to if voters might be influenced by parties' positions on the EU, particularly given the DUP's support for a 'leave' vote.

The ongoing dispute over an exploratory oil drill at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus has also divided some of the area's elected representatives.

Fifteen candidates will challenge for the six seats, with little change in personnel since the last election.

The most notable switch has been within the DUP, with Gordon Lyons co-opted to the Assembly last August following the decision of the area's MP Sammy Wilson to focus on Westminster duties.

Mr Wilson clearly had a strong personal following in previous Assembly elections, collecting almost a quarter of the first preference votes in 2011.

Mr Lyons narrowly missed out on a fourth seat for the DUP last time round but is likely to benefit from vote management and the transfer of the MP's former votes.

The most interesting battle in this constituency will be the attempt by the Ulster Unionists, which is standing three candidates, to take a second seat.

Rodney McCune, now a candidate for the party in South Belfast, came within a whisker of being elected for East Antrim in 2011.

Roy Beggs Jnr looks set to retain his seat, and at at least one of his running mates, John Stewart and Maureen Morrow, both councillors on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, have set their sights on scooping a second at the expense of the DUP.

Ukip councillor Noel Jordan polled strongly at the Westminster election last May, taking more than 3,000 votes and finishing ahead of the TUV, SDLP and Sinn Féin.

TUV councillor Ruth Wilson, who came within 200 votes of the third DUP MLA last time around, will also be in the running for a seat in a constituency which has traditionally been a unionist stronghold.

Long-serving Larne councillor Gerardine Mulvenna missed out on a second seat for Alliance five years ago, and former Green candidate Danny Donnelly, who lost out on a council seat in 2014, will hope split votes and transfers will enable him to join Stewart Dickson in the Assembly.

Sinn Féin's Oliver McMullan, who polled eight per cent of the vote in 2011, will be confident of keeping his place at Stormont.

The SDLP's Justin McCamphill lagged well behind Mr McMullan last time out, but the party may be reinvigorated by the entry of Glens councillor Margaret Anne McKillop into the race.

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  • 2011 share of first preference vote

DUP 46.2 per cent

UUP 16.9 per cent

All 15.5 per cent

SF 8.2 per cent

TUV 4.6 per cent

SDLP 4.6 per cent

Green 2.3 per cent

BNP 1.8 per cent

  • Seats won by party in 2011

DUP 3 seats

UUP 1 seat

All 1 seat

SF 1 seat

  • List of 2016 candidates

Roy Beggs Jnr (UUP)

Stewart Dickson (All)

Danny Donnelly (All)

David Hilditch (DUP)

Noel Jordan (Ukip)

Gordon Lyons (DUP)

Jim McCaw (PUP)

Margaret Anne McKillop (SDLP)

Oliver McMullan (Sinn Féin)

Maureen Morrow (UUP)

Dawn Patterson (Greens)

Alastair Ross (DUP)

Conor Sheridan (Ind)

John Stewart (UUP)

Ruth Wilson (TUV)

Assembly Election

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