Political news

Results across north will be crucial to SF-DUP battle

Catherine Seeley is the best prospect of a Sinn Féin gain. Picture by Paul Faith/PA Wire.

Results in every constituency across the north will influence how much Sinn Féin can narrow the gap at Stormont to the DUP.

Even in places like North Down, where there is no nationalist representation, or East Antrim, where Sinn Féin has a single seat, the battle within unionism will help shape the overall outcome.

How Arlene Foster's party fares in her first election as leader is key to how close Sinn Féin comes this time around.

In fact, for republicans to supersede the DUP in the assembly it would require an unprecedented collapse of the latter's vote – a scenario yet to be forecast.

There are a handful of seats where Sinn Féin itself must make gains.

The party has already highlighted one constituency by selecting Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to run in Foyle, where Sinn Féin has two MLAs to the SDLP's three.

Mr McGuinness's home town is "ground zero for the battle within nationalism" according to blogger David McCann, but the deployment of such a big hitter doesn't necessarily mean the party will gain a seat.

"High-profile candidates don't balance votes, so it's very possible McGuinness will soak up votes and harm the other candidates," he says.

"Sinn Féin will be relying on all its best vote management skills in Foyle but it's a constituency where the SDLP are equal to them in that regard."

Strong support for independents across Foyle also limits Sinn Féin's aspirations.

If the Slugger O'Toole deputy editor was to predict one seat where Sinn Féin might make a gain it is Upper Bann, where Councillor Catherine Seeley could oust former SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly.

"Based on the Westminster result last year Sinn Féin regard this as doable," Mr McCann says.

"Dolores Kelly and the SDLP are fighting against the tide in that constituency."

But beyond Upper Bann he does not envisage other gains.

He also believes there's an outside threat to the party from independents in West Belfast, but more significantly suggests Sinn Féin's seat in East Antrim is vulnerable.

"Oliver McMullan was lucky to get it last time and increased unionist turn-out could make it very hard for him," Mr McCann says.

With no significant lift anticipated in South Down, Newry & Armagh, North Belfast and South Belfast, it's likely Sinn Féin will emerge from May's election with similar numbers as they have now.

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