Northern Ireland

Constituency notebook – North Down has always been a place apart

North Down is one of Northern Ireland's more prosperous constituencies
North Down is one of Northern Ireland's more prosperous constituencies

IT’S not quite Finchley but culturally and geographically North Down is as close to England as anywhere on this island.

It is a comparatively wealthy constituency with a 'Gold Coast', the region's largest marina, a rail network, and the north's first five-star hotel but there are also pockets of deprivation, such as Bangor's Kilcooley estate .

And while North Down has a negligible nationalist population, it can still be characterised as relatively diverse, its assembly representation reflecting this – two DUP MLAs, and one each from the UUP, Alliance and Greens.

Historically however, North Down was overwhelmingly unionist.

In 1959, Ulster Unionist candidate George Currie recorded the highest ever share of the vote in a Westminster election when he was backed by a whopping 98 per cent.

Despite its continued strong unionist majority, 52.4 per cent of North Down's electorate voted to remain in the EU and since the referendum, sitting MP Lady Sylvia Hermon has been the north's sole remain voice at Westminster.

The referendum result demonstrates that North Down is very much a place apart.

From 1970 until the mid-1990s the seat was held by Jim Kilfedder, an Ulster Unionist who went on to form the Ulster Popular Unionist Party (UPUP).

Notably, in 1992, the last election Kilfedder contested before his death three years later, the runner-up was NI Conservative candidate Laurence Kennedy, who polled more than 14,000 votes, by far the regional Tories' best ever result.

After Kilfedder's death the seat was taken by the integrationist UK Unionist Bob McCartney and in 2001, following the Good Friday Agreement, Lady Hermon emerged as the Ulster Unionist candidate ahead of Peter Weir, a critic of the peace accord and later a DUP minister.

It was in this election that Alliance stood aside to help the UUP's pro-agreement candidate beat McCartney.

Lady Hermon, a woman who in North Down tends to command the sort of reverence reserved for royalty, held the seat for the next 18 years, though she contested the last three elections

as an independent, having objected to the Ulster Unionists' formal ties with the Tories under the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists–New Force (UCUNF) banner.

However, with each election, the DUP has been getting closer and in 2017 came within 1,200 votes of unseating the incumbent.

Earlier this month, with the SDLP and Sinn Féin already having pulled out of the North Down race to help her, Lady Hermon announced that she would not be standing.

With no candidate coming forward who could match the outgoing MP's broad appeal, it was a setback for the loose anti-Brexit coalition that was seeking to prevent the election of the DUP's Alex Easton, runner-up on the two previous occasions.

As a former Stormont minister and MLA in the constituency, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry has a high enough profile but lacks Lady Hermon's appeal among traditional unionists.

In the years since Lady Hermon left its ranks the UUP was happy to step aside. Now, however, it seems the moderate unionist vote will be split as Farry contends with the Ulster Unionist candidate Alan Chambers, who is also a Stormont representative.



Alan Chambers (UUP)

Alex Easton (DUP)

Stephen Farry (ALL)

Matthew Robinson (Cons)

2017 Share of Vote

Independents - 41.2%

DUP - 38%

ALL - 9.3%

Greens - 6.5%

Cons - 2.4%

SF - 1.4%

SDLP - 1%

Electorate: 64,334

Majority: 1,208