Assembly elections: Mid Ulster analysis

Sinn Féin and SDLP are on the hunt for an extra seat in Mid Ulster, while the established unionist parties fend off competition from the TUV. But will there be any impact on the political makeup of the constituency?

Results of 2007 Assembly Election

Martin McGuinness MP (SF) 8065 (18.2%)
Ian McCrea (DUP) 7608 (17.2%)
Francis Molloy (SF) 6597 (14.9%)
Michelle O’Neill (SF) 6432 (14.5%)
Patsy McGlone (SDLP) 4976 (11.2%)
Billy Armstrong (UUP) 4781 (10.8%)
Kathleen Lagan (SDLP) 2759 (6.2%)
Walter Millar (UKUP) 1210 (2.7%)
Elizabeth Forde (DUP) 1021 (2.3%)
Brendan McLaughlin (RSF) 437 (1.0%)
Margaret Marshall (Alliance) 221 (0.5%)
Harry Hutchinson (Independent) 170 (0.4%)

Results of 2007 by Party

SF 21,094 (47.6%, +2.1%) 3 seats
DUP 8,629 (19.5%, -1.3%) 1 seat
SDLP 7,735 (17.5%, -0.9%) 1 seat
UUP 4,781 (10.8%, -3.6%) 1 seat
UKUP 1,210 (2.7%)
RSF 437 (1.0%)
Alliance 221 (0.5%, +0.1%)
Hutchinson 170 (0.4%)

Electorate 61,223
Votes cast 44,728 (73.1%); spoilt votes 451 (1.0%)
Valid votes 44,277; quota 6,326

The candidates

After scoring a fantastic 52% in last year’s Westminster elections, it is unsurprising that Sinn Féin are attempting to take four seats this time instead of just three. Ian Milne joins old hands Martin McGuinness, Francie Molly and Michelle O’Neill on the Sinn Féin ticket. Milne hails from South Derry, which is sure to bring out a big vote and make the contest very interesting.

The SDLP are also attempting to secure an extra seat in the constituency after narrowly missing their goal in 1998 and 2003. Sitting MLA Patsy McGlone is being joined on the ticket by Austin Kelly, from Sperrin.

The DUP on the other hand are only choosing to field one candidate, sitting MLA Ian McCrea, the son of former Mid Ulster MP and current South Antrim MP Wille McCrea.

The party’s decision to field one candidate will be due to the threat of the TUV candidate Walter Millar, who polled quite well in last year’s election with almost 3,000 votes.

The unionist contest also includes Sandra Overend, daughter of outgoing UUP MLA Billy Armstrong. She has been working for her father for the last number of years and was also the UUP candidate for last year’s election, as well has being head of the UUP women’s group.

Rounding off the race is the Alliance party’s Micheal McDonnell, People Before Profit’s Harry Hutchinson and independents Hugh McCloy and Gerry McCann.

The analysis

Let’s start with the big question. Will Sinn Féin get four seats? The short answer is no. The longer answer is highly unlikely.  A lot of things would have to fall in their favour for it to happen.

Their fourth seat will not come at the expense of the SDLP. The deputy Leader of SDLP Patsy McGlone, is well-known, is the only fluent Irish speaker among Mid Ulster MLAs, and has maintained a considerable media presence since 2007.

Could Sinn Féin gain an additional seat from the unionist candidates? This would be the more likely place to see them make a gain, but again it would be hard to see it happening. The DUP seat would be safe, despite taking a big hit from the TUV last year. McCrea is well known among his community and seen as one of the more hardline DUP MLAs, which should be enough to see him over the line despite a challenge from TUV’s Walter Miller.

Walter MillarTUV’s Walter Millar is unlikely to threaten the DUP and UUP’s seats

That leaves the UUPs Sandra Overend. Taking the seat left by her father will be a hard task, and maybe it would have been a better idea to co-opt her last year in order to build her profile in the run up to this election. However, she managed to add to the UUP vote in her run for Westminster last year, and it is unlikely her vote will be affected by the TUV. Indeed, I expect her to get many of the transfers after Miller is eliminated. She may have to sweat it out to the final count, but I would be surprised if she wasn’t elected.

So that leaves Sinn Féin still chasing that 4th seat. The danger for the party is that they may not balance their vote correctly and end up losing a seat. With Milne being Sinn Féin’s only South Derry candidate in the constituency, it will be interesting to see if he knocks out any of their existing MLAs. It won’t be McGuinness, who is now the poster boy of the peace process and has won many people over since becoming Deputy First Minister. O’Neill will have the Coalisland vote, which should see her returned without much fuss. But Molly could be the one who misses out. The Coalisland canal has been a major issue among many people in the area, with a proposed new supermarket being seen as a threat to the canal’s future restoration. Sinn Féin were seen as taking the side of the supermarket, and so Molloy will hope to avoid any judgement over the issue.

Francie Molloy

Francie Molloy’s seat could be under threat if Sinn Féin fail to manage their votes carefully

The SDLP, while running two candidates and being close on previous occasions, would do well to see their second candidate stay ahead of Overend on 1st preferences to be in a position to gain another seat. It would require a rise of around 2,000 votes which, while not impossible, is highly improbable.

As for the Alliance, they will do well to poll close to 500. The other independents, despite the issue of the Mid Ulster Hospital closure perhaps giving them a better showing, will probably not be enough for a Kieran Deeny-style shock victory.

Prediction

Sinn Féin – three seats

SDLP – one seat

UUP – one seat

DUP – one seat


Comments:

  • Anonymous

    In the Assembly Election I voted; 1. Hugh McCloy, 2 Patsy McGlone and 3 Austin Kelly.

    I’m so glad Patsy held onto his seat as he did the Donkey Work on local issues in the Constituency. I always had a feeling he would need transfers from the Independent Candidates in order to stem the tide of Sinn Fein (the ‘Anti-Cuts’ Party that gave their blessing to British Austerity, lol).

    I can’t believe the UUP held onto their Seat. This was the Party who; along with Sinn Fein; helped decimate health-care West of the Bann. Perhaps we still haven’t cast off the shackles of a Family all voting for the same Party.

    Eventually Mid Ulster will have 5 Nationalist Seats (4 Sinn Fein, 1 SDLP). This is the only constituency which has had the same MLAs for the respective Party since 1998. I would see a growing number of Protestants turning to Independent ‘Bread and Butter’ Candidates (such as McCloy) and transferring to the SDLP because of the ‘Bread and Butter’ Issues. The UUP are nothing but Sliverspooners.

    The Assembly Election in general showed that Peter Robinson has come out a stronger man; in spite of his Wife’s Antics; whilst the UUP can get away with a meltdown of their vote by picking up transfers from other Unionist Parties.

    • Malachy

      Des,

      I have to disagree with you on the eventuality of get 4 SF MLAs They ran 4 this time and got 3, 1 of which came in under-quota because they spread their vote to thinly. There is for now two safe Unionists seats in MU and i don’t see a case to be made that either of them seats will be lost. 

      We will have to wait and see what boundary changes are made in the next few years to constituencies West of the Bann, indeed we could see Coalisland revert back to Fermanagh/South Tyrone. They only way SF would get a 4th seat is a melt-down in the SDLP vote (Unionists will always transfer to each other)  which while touted for many years has yet to materialize 

      • Anonymous

        The Torrent Ward should be part of Fermanagh/South Tyrone, or else there would be a dogfight in General Elections between Michelle Gildrenew and a ‘Stalking Horse’ Unionist Candidate.

        The SDLP paid the ultimate price for fielding Ferghal McKinney in last Year’s General election in Fermanagh/South Tyrone by losing their Assembly seat in May. The Constituency where Unionists once elected Harry West and Nationalists once elected Bobby Sands doesn’t have much time for vote splitters (either SDLP or Unionist).

        • Malachy

          Indeed the SDLP missed out on the Seat by a mere 67 votes and the issue of McKinney wasn’t as big a factor as most people would like to think, indeed its not about split voting, it was about standing up to sectarian politics, The time of “Us against them politics” has to be challenged and the fact that people still vote Orange and Green over actual life and death issue is frightening to say the least. 

          But we shall see how the next 4 years play out  on the political parties. 

 


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