General Election

Sinn Fein expected to once again romp home in West Belfast this election

Nothing is expected to change in the West Belfast constituency as a result of the forthcoming Westminster election. Picture by Mal McCann

SHORT of the apocalypse, nothing will stop Sinn Féin from retaining West Belfast in this election.

Voter fatigue, bad weather, even anger over the ongoing Stormont impasse, there is nothing that will prevent the fiercely loyal voters of this constituency from coming out to mark their X in the box to re-elect this party.

Sinn Féin has held the Westminster seat for West Belfast for the last two decades and it's hard to think of any scenario that would change that now.

Once again Paul Maskey - who has held the seat since 2011 - will be running for the party.

In the last Westminster election in June 2017, Mr Maskey won a very convincing 66.7 per cent of the vote with no other candidate coming anywhere close.

This percentage share was up from the previous Westminster election, when the party polled 54.2 per cent.

The party also already holds four of the five Assembly seats for West Belfast with People Before Profit taking the fifth.

While a lot may have changed in this constituency - which takes in the western quarter of Belfast City Council and a small corner of Lisburn and Castlereagh District Council - both infrastructure and investment wise in the last few decades, much else has remained the same.

The area is still one of western Europe's most socially and economically deprived. Unemployment remains high as does the number of people claiming benefits.

The last census revealed that the average age of a west Belfast resident is 35.5 - the youngest of all the constituencies - and 59 per cent of the population consider themselves Irish with 22 per cent describing themselves as Northern Irish.

Around 80 per cent of residents were brought up Catholic while 17 per cent brought up Protestant.

There are a number of key issues which are likely to be raised on the doorstep.

These include Brexit and voters' concerns about its consequences. In turn, this is also likely to raise the issue of Irish unity.

With voting due to take place in the middle of health service industrial action, and given the location of the Royal Victoria Hospital on the Falls Road and the large percentage of the west Belfast population who work there, the rights of healthcare workers fighting stressful work environments, pay and under staffing, is also likely to be a big issue.

Other residents are also sure to raise NHS issues generally including growing waiting lists and GP waiting times.

Protecting the rights of Irish language speakers is also likely to raise its head given that 21 per cent of the population in the constituency say they can speak Irish.

Also running are Gerry Carroll representing People Before Profit (PBP), who already holds an assembly seat in the constituency and the SDLP's Paul Doherty, who is the organiser of the Foodstock festival which supports local foodbanks.

Also running is former Sinn Féin councillor Monica Digney, who is standing as an Aontú candidate, Donnamarie Higgins, a mother-of-three who is a strong advocate for women's rights, who is standing for the Alliance Party and the DUP's Frank McCoubrey, a well-known and long-standing Belfast councillor.

CANDIDATES

Gerry Carroll (PBP)

Monica Digney (Aontú)

Paul Doherty (SDLP)

Donnamarie Higgins (ALL)

Paul Maskey (SF)

Frank McCoubrey (DUP)

2017 SHARE OF VOTE

SF 66.7%

DUP 13.4%

PBP 10.4 %

SDLP 7.0 %

ALL 1.8 %

WP 0.9 %

Electorate: 62,423

Majority: 21,652

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General Election