Constituencies of Interest06 March 2017 - by Matthew Coyle
The Assembly election count served up some notable storylines around Northern Ireland's 18 constituencies. Here are a few of them.
While not a surprise to see nationalism prevail in this constituency, a significant development was the decline of the SDLP. In an otherwise solid election, the party lost its sole Assembly spot. Where the SDLP once held the Westminster seat, the squeeze on space at Stormont meant that there was no room for Alex Attwood, first elected in 1998. His narrow victory in 2016 would not be repeated.
Elsewhere, Sinn Féin held the four seats it secured last May – something of a blow, at that time, given the five places it had occupied until then – and reined in Gerry Carroll along the way. The People Before Profit MLA had finished top of the poll last time out, but careful vote management by Sinn Féin and a campaign highlighting his support for Brexit, slashed that lead.
In this unionist heartland, only Alliance veteran Trevor Lunn constituted a break from that bloc. Lunn contested the election alongside three DUP incumbents and the outgoing UUP duo of Robbie Butler and Jenny Palmer. In a race where few surprises were expected and one sitting MLA was set to become unemployed, it was Palmer who was first to fall, opening the way for Brenda Hale to join party colleagues Edwin Poots and Paul Givan in shoring up the DUP’s dominance here.
Instead, the SDLP’s Pat Catney would be the beneficiary of the transfer-friendly policy advocated by UUP leader Mike Nesbitt. Catney grabbed the fifth seat on the eighth count – his transfers emanating mostly from the UUP – eliminating Hale and dragging the DUP below the 30-vote Petition of Concern threshold.
Mid Ulster has trended in the direction of nationalism for a number of elections now (Sinn Féin holds the Westminster seat and three Assembly seats; Patsy McGlone represents the SDLP), but in a six-seat constituency both the DUP and the UUP enjoyed some measure of representation. In the wake of the reduction of available places, unionism was likely to feel the pressure.
One of the UUP’s more striking losses, Sandra Overend failed to outlast the DUP’s Keith Buchanan, elected for the first time last May but now succeeding as a sole candidate. Having previously split the ticket with one-time MLA Ian McCrea, Buchanan finished second in the poll behind Michelle O’Neill, garnering 9,568 first-preference votes to make it over the line on the first count.