Northern Ireland

South Antrim: UUP’s best hope for return to Westminster lies with Swann challenge to DUP

Former Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann hopes to reclaim constituency for party he once led

Shane's Castle, Co Antrim
Shanes Castle, one of South Antrim's picturesque visitor attractions, on the shores of Lough Neagh.

After two wins on the trot for the DUP in South Antrim, the UUP is mounting its biggest push in years to reclaim the seat, which has switched back and forth between the two main unionist parties for decades.

That push comes in the form of Robin Swann, buoyed by the goodwill from his time as Stormont health minister during the Covid-19 pandemic.

His level-headed leadership drew praise from both sides of the north’s political divide, and so it was decided to shift him from his traditional North Antrim patch to South Antrim, in the hope of the UUP once again having representation in the House of Commons after seven years without a seat.

This could encourage tactical voting among nationalists and ‘others’ to help get Swann over the line, instead of his DUP rival Paul Girvan, who won the seat in 2019 with just over 35% of the vote share, ahead of then-UUP candidate and ex-MP Danny Kinahan’s 29%.

The TUV didn’t field a candidate here in 2019, but with the party’s Mel Lucas standing this time around, that DUP lead is likely to shrink further.

Meanwhile, Alliance MLA John Blair is returning as his party’s General Election candidate in South Antrim.

He grew the Alliance Westminster vote share here to just over 19% five years ago - up from 2017′s 7.4%.

No doubt an impressive jump, but the risk of Alliance support switching to Robin Swann in a bid to oust the DUP could present a hurdle to any further growth.

Also returning as a candidate in the constituency is Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney. His party’s share in South Antrim has fluctuated over the past five Westminster elections, dropping from a high of 18.1% in 2017 to 11.4% two years later.

The SDLP’s Roisin Lynch, an Antrim councillor, is also returning as her party’s candidate, but the SDLP has suffered a steady decline in votes here since 2005, with the share falling each Westminster election.

In 2019, they earned just 5.3%, compared to the heights of 2005, when Noreen McClelland landed the SDLP 12.4%.

Both the Green Party and Aontú are fielding Westminster candidates in South Antrim for the first time, but with both parties earning a tiny percentage of the vote share here in the 2022 Stormont elections, don’t expect any significant results for either on July 5.

South Antrim
South Antrim