Assembly Election 2022: Foyle

Foyle is a constituency whih is really just the City of Derry. It is so called because a choice of “Derry” or “L*****derry” would be too controversial. The city is much changed from my first visit after Bloody Sunday in 1972. There is a small unionist community at the Fountain and a larger mixed area in the Waterside (east of the river). This is the city of John Hume, Martin McGuinness and more recently….the Derry Girls.

Foyle: Currently there are five MLAs…Sinn Féin (2) SDLP (2) DUP (1)).

I was in Derry on Monday. I love this city.

The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022

A quota of maybe 7,500.

The story here is that SDLP fell behind Sinn Féin in the very heartland of SDLP in 2017and Elisha McCallion defeated Mark Durkan (uncle of Mark H Durkan) for the Westminster seat. This is “John Hume’s Seat” and a crushing defeat for the party.

In 2019, Colum Eastwood romped home with almost 27,000 votes to Ms McCallions 10,000. A defeat that so angered Sinn Féin that they purged the district party, unceremoniously sacking sitting MLAs and co-opting new people.

Colum’s vote in 2019 suggests that SDLP is on course to get two seats. But the vote has encouraged the Party to try for three seats. It is always a risk that requires careful vote management.

The two sitting MLAs are Mark H Durkan (nephew of former Leader Mark Durkan). I was only in the city centre but his posters are along Strand Road and in the Bogside.

Sinéad McLaughlin was co-opted when Colum Eastwood went to Westminster. She is the leading Pro-Choice advocate in SDLP. Mark H is a leading Pro-Life advocate. Her posters are along Shipquay Street and in the Waterside.

Brian Tierney is the current Mayor of Derry/Strabane. He is “well got” in Derry. Son of former MLA John Tierney. His posters are in the Long Tower area and on a recent trip, I saw his posters outside the city centre on the road to County Donegal.

The problem with vote management is that any one of the three candidates could lose out. Co-options for SDLP in Derry. Both Pól O’Callaghan and Gerard Diver failed to keep their seats at the next election.

The figures from 2017 are good for Sinn Féin. The 2019 figures are a disaster. Is the true strength of the Party 18,000 or 10,000? Probably somewhere in between …enough for two quotas.

Gary Middleton (DUP) is the sole unionist MLA. There is certainly a unionist quota in the city and while there were only 6,000 unionist votes in 2018, this is an indication of tactical votes for Colum Eastwood to defeat Sinn Féin. This poster is in the Fountain area and there is probably many in the Waterside. A little disconcerting there is none of any unionist in the city centre…not that I saw.

DUP is under pressure from moderate UUP and extreme TUV.

Ryan McCready comes across as the new type of UUP, favoured by Doug Beattie. He is active on social media. But there is only one unionist quota available. There might be a tussle with Gary Middleton.

Elizabeth Neely (TUV) gives some choice to the unionist electorate. This poster was at the Derry Railway Station.

People Before Profit. Has their bubble burst? Shaun Harkin has been hyped to take a seat once held by Eamonn McCann. But Harkin is not McCann. At best he can transfer to SDLP and Sinn Féin.

Emmett Doyle. First test for Aontú. The main plank in their platform is anti-Abortion. This in some way is the pitch that Anne McCloskey has already claimed.

Dr Anne McCloskey. Unusual to see “Dr” on an election poster. She took 2,000 votes in 2019. She has somehow expanded her views beyond Pro-Life.

Colly McLaughlin. Really just a matter of getting publicity for a marginalised party.

Rachel Ferguson (Alliance) will obviously improve on her 2019 performance. But she is being over-hyped.

Gillian Hamilton represents the Green Party. But the Greens have no track record here.

PREDICTION

None. Could be a very long count.

As always, it is in the hands of the voters. These are some voters who were just 17 in 1998.

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Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

Unfortunately I have to be away from home for a few days.

I might not even get to vote on Thursday..

Nothing to worry about. Just something I have to do.

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Assembly Election 2022: South Down

South Down is a constituency which includes Downpatrick, Newcastle, Warrenpoint and Kilkeel. The north of the constituency is commuter land to Belfast. The south is seaside resorts and small fishing ports. It is mostly nationalist and there are unionist areas around Kilkeel. A lot of farming in the Mourne Mountains.

Currently there are five MLAs…Sinn Féin (2) SDLP (2) DUP (1)). The DUP member left the Party to become Independent.

On Friday, I was in Downpatrick. Between now and election date, I hope to travel to either Newcastle or Warrenpoint.

The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022.

The quota will be quite high at over 8,000.

The Sinn Féin candidates are Cathy Mason who was co-opted to replace Chris Hazzard when he went to Westminster and Warrenpoint-based Sinéad Ennis. The two most recent elections suggest two quotas.

The retirement of Sinéad Bradley means that the SDLP candidates are current MLA, Colin McGrath and former MLA, Karen McKevitt.

This is a constituency where the SDLP is vulnerable.

The decline of SDLP in South Down needs to be halted. The party took two seats in 2017 but Alliance are believed to be on the point of picking up a seat.

To some extent, SDLP has been its own worst enemy here. There was heady talk that they could pick up the Westminster seat in 2019 if unionists voted tactically. It was not to be but the SDLP did not make a wise decision with their choice of candidate, Michael Savage.

Michael Savage had been the General Secretary of SDLP and only became a (co-opted) councillor on Newry and Mourne Council in 2017 and first elected to the council in May 2019.

So …in my view…not a good choice as he had no real pedigree as a an elected politician dealing with constituents issues. Worse perhaps, he was a councillor for Newry DEA which is actually in the Newry and Armagh constituency.

So effectively the South Down SDLP brought in an outsider when there were good councillors, notably Laura Devlin inside the constituency boundary.

South Down is always a tricky balancing act between strongholds like Downpatrick, Newcastle and Warrenpoint/Rostrevor. So shooting itself in the foot is not a good idea.

No doubt former Party Leader and MP, Margaret Ritchie is popular in some quarters but she left SDLP to become a member of the House of Lords. So I am not sure that having her canvass in South Down is a good idea.

It is not all bad news for SDLP in South Down.

There are four DEAs (Downpatrick, Mournes, Slieve Croob and Crotlieve) on Newry & Mourne District Council that are within South Down and a fifth (Rowallane) which is partly in South Down and Strangford.

A reality check. SDLP outvotes Alliance in all four South Down DEAs and Alliance outvotes SDLP in Rowallane.

It may be crucial, SDLP has eight councillors and Alliance only two. But of course Alliance can pick up unionist transfers.

In terms of election chances, this time around Alliance are deemed to have a good chance. But based on 4,500 votes in 2017, that still seems unlikely. Based on 7,000 in 2019, it is more likely.

I have tried to be fair to Alliance and all parties in these profiles but I make an exception in the case of Patrick Brown.

If you want to know anything about him, GOOGLE him. Sorry.

The unionist side of South Down is confusing. Jim Wells has held the DUP seat for decades and he has now left politics. He had been out of favour with DUP leadership for a few years and has now endorsed the TUV candidate, Harold McKee (the 2017 UUP candidate) who got over 4,000 votes. Confusing.

Diane Forsythe is the DUP candidate. They hold a seat thru Jim Wells. But she left DUP last year and rejoined a short time later

Jill McCauley UUP is undermined by many UUP members in South Down following Harold McKee to TUV. The transfers will be interesting…DUP or TUV but maybe enough to get Alliance a seat.

Rosemary McGlone (Aontú) can build on over 1,200 votes for the party from 2019. Still a party attached to Catholic doctrine on Pro-Life, there is certainly a base in South Down but where do transfers go.

Noeleen Lynch (Green). The party had less than 500 votes in 2017 and maybe 1,000 will be the maximum. Transfers likely to SDLP and Alliance.

Paul McCrory (People Before Profit) …the first time PBP have stood in the constituency.

Paddy Clarke…regular Independent with 192 votes in 2019.

PREDICTION

None except it will be one of the constituencies to watch.

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The Disappearing Green Man (A Mid Ulster Mystery)

Some things you cannot make up.

I was on a bus between Antrim and Belfast when I was alerted to the news that the Green Party had ceased campaigning in Mid Ulster and the candidate is “no longer endorsed” by the Party.

The statement issued by the Greens is very curious

“We have ceased campaigning in the Mid Ulster constituency as the Green Party NI candidate has withdrawn from the campaign.

Whilst he will still appear on the ballot paper, his membership of the party has been suspended, and he is no longer endorsed by the Green Party NI”.

To break this down

1 they have ceased campaigning AS (because???) the candidate has withdrawn…”

presumably this means he withdrew himself rather than been withdrwan by the Party.

2 he will still appear on the ballot paper

Well yes….but have postal votes been issued and have people actually voted for him already?

3 his membership has been suspended.

Well that is clearly a matter for the Green Party. But was he suspended because he withdrew? Or was there some incident leading to withdrawin?.

The most curious aspect is that the Green Party has no further comment to make. The Greens are a bit mouthy and always have comments to make.

In fairness, Stefan Taylor is hardly a household name. He got less than 500 votes in the two most recent Assembly elections.

So is a candidate already on a ballot paper and suspended by his Party a news story? Or is it only a story if it is Sinn Féin, DUP, UUP, SDLP? Can you imagine the Slugger O’Toole headline?

The Greens rightly complained that the BBC was giving more coverage in this election to TUV (one MLA) than to the Greens (two MLAs). I even signed a petition to support the Greens.

They have a right to be heard. And a right to be silent.

But I think that the voters in Mid Ulster deserve a full explanation. We all do.

How many members do the Green Party have? 500? More?

They deserve an explanation and no doudt their WhatsUp group is filled with”What is going on? and “Ssssh dont talk to the Press”

For all their democracy, there is probably a Green inner circle who know the story. And an outer circle that knows some of it. Nothing wrong with that of course. It would be the same in any party.

There might be good reasons why the story is not public. But being embarrassed is not a good reason

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Vote “Muppet”

Odd “election poster” in Downpatrick (South Down constituency) yesterday.

Is Kermit better than Patrick Brown (Alliance Party) ?

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Brave Women…Cowardly Men

All of us who are committed to Democracy will be outraged at the attack on Hannah Kenny of People Before Profit in East Belfast last night.

She was subject to sexist and sectarian abuse. It follows on from the attack on Elsie Trainor (SDLP, South Belfast) a few weeks ago.

Other women like Cara Hunter in East Derry have also been targets.

Big brave men.

This election is marked by two things. On the plus side, I have been heartened to see posters in places once deemed unlikely. And canvassers reaching out. A very good sign. On the reverse side I have heard canvassers abused. Paul Doherty (SDLP) abused on Shankill Road and Conor Houston (also SDLP) billboard vandalised in Newtownards.

To be absolutely clear, I am not making it an issue that is about SDLP. Far from it. As a supporter, these are the stories (and others) that I am most likely to hear about. I obviously do not hear as much about other parties and I suspect for every story of abuse that makes the news or social media, there are scores that do not.

Abuse goes with the territory…literally.

This village is 100% nationalist. There are DUP, UUP, TUV posters within its limits. Also predictably SDLP, Sinn Féin and Alliance.

It reflects well on our village. I am proud of that.

But these attacks on women….are just beyond the Pale.

Charlotte Carson (SDLP East Belfast), her posters have been damaged or stolen (no doubt to decorate a bonfire later in the year). And just how insulting is that? Nobody in politics should pass (possibly with their children) a decorated bonfire and see their image prepared to be burned.

It is pure HATRED and we need legislature to make this a hate-crime that should be prosecuted more thoroughly.

These are brave people.

I am a fully paid up coward. Ahead of the 1973 Assembly Election, I was canvassing with SDLP in West Belfast..on Springfield Road and we decided to demonstrate our anti-sectarian credentials and cross into Ainsworth Avenue.

We got a few leaflets thru doors before we were chased. But I can always claim that I got two leaflets thru doors on Ainsworth Avenue.

There is nothing worse than these vile attacks. We have to ask who is getting attacked. We have to ask who is doing the attacking.

There is a curious imbalance.

We are politically somehow obliged to say that one community is as bad as the other. I am not a politician. If we call a spade a shovel, these sectarian attacks seem like one way.

But I have to be optimistic. Two weeks ago I was in East Belfast. There are still some parts of Lower Newtownards Road where I would consider unwise for me to be. It is a generational thing.

One surprise in East Belfast was the number of People Before Profit posters all along Newtownards Road. And quite a few SDLP posters.

Indeed one of Charlotte Carson’s posters was at Holywood Arches which…yes its a generational thing…surprised me. And a few days ago, I was on a bus coming from Bangor, I looked across fully expecting it to be removed. It was still there. We cant judge people by the bad behaviour of a few.

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DUP: Rumbled At Last?

Some graffiti in Carrickfergus yesterday afternoon. It is just outside the railway station, There is similar graffiti in other parts of the town.

There is much speculation how the DUP will fare in next week’s election.

In loyalist, Carrickfergus, ths graffiti is obviously the work of loyalists.

Where exactly is Unionism?

Certainly (I hold) there is the Alliance Party and whether or not they claim to be neutral, the obvious best hope for unionism is a stable society where people just get along and accept a status quo. That is the only thing that can defeat the Demographics. Even if most unionists cannot see this, you can bet that round the Alliance Party know it.

And the Ulster Unionist Party. Rather like St Augustine who said “Please GOD, make me good …but not yet”….the UUP (as under Doug Beattie now) go thru periods of reaching out to Catholics/nationalists and telling us they have changed. They too know that they cannot do much about the Demographics but not really changing enough to be convincing advocates for “a union of people”.

And the Democratic Unionist Party. The party of unionist protest for five decades…well they cannot change. Time has finally caught up with the dinosaurs. They were riding high when Theresa May’s government needed them as voting fodder. Arlene, Nigel and Jeffrey strutted up Downing Street for the TV cameras like they owned the place…and so briefly they did. Now Arlene is a commentator on GB News (the English equivelant of Fox News), Nigel is Baron Dodds of Duncairn in the House of Lords.

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh your leg off at the incompetence.

DUP wanted the hard Border that would actually undermine the relaxed, invisible Border that the Good Friday Agreement produced.

Of course DUP was opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, undermined the UUP and then operated the Agreement (or the bits they liked) when in office as “First Minister”.

I am now laughing my other leg off.

So the Tories have abandoned DUP and introduced a border …in the Irish Sea.

The stupidity of DUP is stunning. The dreaded Protocol…an issue that only resonates with DUP themselves and the protestors that they used to lead.

Do Nationalists really want to bail the DUP out of the crisis they created? Our Agreement and living together only works because no side could win…except if the other side made a mistake, a fatal error…the error that DUP made.

A hard Border was a calculated insult to nationalists. Triumphalism of the worst kind.

I feel like I am a passenger on the Belfast to Cairnryan ferry and as I watched from the viewing deck, someone crept up behind me and tried to throw me overboard. The person who intended to do me harm, slipped and fell over the guard rail and is down in the icy water appealing for me to throw him a lifebelt.

How to respond? Well let me see….if I had a third leg, I would laugh it off.

It really is that simple.

DUP are of course the party founded by Rev Ian Paisley. But his real successors in the “Never! Never! Never!” rhetoric is Jim Allister and the TUV. Traditional Ulster Voice are the true Paisleyites, mostly like Paisley first got to a Stormont and Westminster MP in the towns and villages of County Antrim. Jim Allister and Kate Hoey.

If the TUV…currently Allister is the only MLA make any gains next week, it is likely to be in County Antrim…Paisley Country.

Now TUV are men (mostly) in suits and they don’t do graffiti outside Carrickfergus Railway Station.

“DUP Out” is not exactly what I would expect in Carrickfergus. It is a bit like the Romanians turning against Caesescu (sp) in 1988. What does it say about DUP’s electoral prospects next week.

Well this is the reason I have visited twelve constituencies in the last three weeks. Another six to visit plus some follow ups early next week.

Looking at this election is NOT just about useless opinion polls and useful data…it is about gut feeling and being around to see the graffiti.

Anyway, I will be writing up three constituencies over the weekend.

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Assembly Election 2022: Lagan Valley

Lagan Valley is a constituency centred on Lisburn and including Belfast suburb of Dunmurry, the relatively upmarket towns of Hillsborough and and Moira and rural areas at Dromore and Dromara.

Currently there are five MLAs…DUP (2) UUP (1) Alliance (1) SDLP(1). The Alliance member left the Party to become Independent.

It is a Westminster constituency where unionist votes are weighed rather than counted. But recently unionist infighting and the rise of Alliance has added an element of chaos.

I travelled by train to Lisburn.

The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022.

The quota might be high at over 7,500.

As always the problem is untangling the real strength of a party from the unique circumstances of the tactical voting of 2019 Brexit Election.

The DUP have two big hitters here. Jeffrey Donaldson is Party Leader and the current MP for Lagan Valley. Paul Givan was briefly First Minister in the Norn Iron Executive.

It can be expected that DUP will take a hit over Brexit, Protocol and general incompetence. The 2017 and 2019 votes cast are not very different. and probably enough for two quotas.

Givan has been allocated Lisburn City and Donaldson has been allocated (among other places) Moira.

Donaldson has been climbing the slippery pole of loyal Order and unionist politics for decades. Bag-carrier for Enoch Powell in South Down, he moved to Lagan Valley to do much the same for Jim Molyneux. He was then UUP of course but switched to DUP after the Good Friday Agreement. Already a “Sir” , he will in due course become a “Lord”. I expect he will just love that.

But now he has a job to do…saving the DUP. And possibly even saving Norn Iron.

With over 11,000 votes cast for UUP in 2017 and just over 8,500 votes cast for UUP (Robbie Butler) in 2019, the true position in terms of UUP core votes is probably around 10,000.

UUP were effectively squeezed in 2019. Some voters may have decided to shore up the unionist vote and others may have decided that the best way to unseat Jeffrey Donaldson was to vote Alliance.

Laura Turner posters are in Lisburn.

Trevor Lunn (now 75) an Alliance veteran who held his seat in 2017. Since then he has left the Party to be an Independent. He is standing down at this election. It appears that the party hierarchy and local party members were in indecent haste to have him resign and be replaced by a co-option.

Trevor Lunn was over 1,000 votes below quota.

In 2019 Sorcha Eastwood’s vote suggests that Alliance are on course for two quotas. But is it so clear cut? Her 2019 is inflated by tactical voting.

Sorcha Eastwood has been acting that she is already a MLA and that the election on 5th May is just a formality. She is probably right.

But with two likely DUP seats and one likely UUP seat, then David Honeyford has to target the sole SDLP seat of Pat Catney.

SDLP taking a seat in Lagan Valley in 2017 was a major surprise. As I recall I put a bet on Pat Catney to win a seat. It was touch and go with transfers playing a major part. It will be harder this tim with two Alliance candidates and just two from DUP. But I hope that Pat’s record as a MLA will be crucial. He sponsored the Period Products Bill and that is bound to help.

There are probably 2,000 votes available to Lorna Smyth (TUV). But they are really only transfer fodder for DUP.

Gary Hynds is standing as an Independent, having stood as a Tory at Westminster 2019.

Gary McCleave (Sinn Féin) stood in 2019 and got just over 1,000 votes. This was a big drop from 1,800 for Sinn Féin in 2017. There is little interest in Westminster politics for nationalists in Lagan Valley but undoubtedly some tactical voting for Sorcha Eastwood. A chunk of his transfers might help Pat Catney.

Simon (Si) Lee is unlikely to make an impression except in terms of transfers to SDLP and Alliance.

Amanda Doherty (People Before Profit) is in the same position. Her second preference vote will be more important than the first preferences.

PREDICTION.

None.

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Reunion Concert, Bangor

I saw this in Bangor yesterday.

Baby Protocol, Posh Protocol, Sporty Protocol, Scary Protocol,Silver Protocol

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Assembly Election 2022: North Down

North Down is a constituency running east from Belfast along the southern shore of Belfast Lough. A concentration of dormitory towns including Holywood, Helens Bay, Bangor and Donaghadee.

It is known as The Gold Coast because there are a lot of rich, upper middle class but there are also working class (loyalist) areas in Bangor.

Currently there are five MLAs…DUP (2) UUP (1) Alliance (1) Green (1). One of the DUP members left the Party to become Independent.

In political terms it is somewhat isolated from the rest of Norn Iron. Over decades the Westminster seat has been held by Independent (unionists) such as James Kilfedder, Robert McCartney and Sylvia Hermon. The current MP elected in 2019 is the first member of a mainstream polical party (Alliance) and even so is a MP because of Green Party, SDLP and Sinn Féin standing aside to help guarantee an anti-Brexit victory.

I travelled by train to Holywood and spent an hour there before travelling on to Bangor.

The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022.

The quota required in 2022 may be just over 6,100 votes.

The defection of Alex Easton means Gordon Dunne who is Holywood based becomes the DUP front runner. DUP are almost certain to lose a seat here. Jennifer Gilmour does not seem likely to be elected.

An odd one. The UUP is allegedly modernising under Doug Beattie. But it seems like it is in transition and the two election posters (Alan Chambers in Bangor) and Naomi McBurney in Holywood mostly) seem to underscore the transition.

Chambers only joined UUP about ten years ago, having been a prominent Independent in the council for decades. He topped the poll in 2017. But standing in the Westminster election and only getting 4,000 votes effectively costing the DUP a seat by splitting the unionist vote might cost him votes this time.

Naomi McBurney looks more in the image of Doug Beattie’s “union of people” rhetoric.

If asked a year ago, if Alliance would gain a seat in North Down, I would have said YES. So would the Alliance Party. Now I am not so sure. Neither is the Alliance Party.

They might be helped if there is a collapse of unionist votes or if unionists are so turned off by Brexit, DUP incompetence, Protocol and internal wrangling. This could mean that turn-out within the unionist community is lower than the more “progressive” elements in the constituency.

We have a situation where there are three unionist MLAs and two (Alliance and Green). Does Farry’s election change the balance in North Down.

Well in 2017, Alliance ran one candidate (Farry) and got safely over quota on the first count. That does not suggest a second seat.

Nor does the Westminster triumph in itself. The 18,000 votes includes 5,000 loaned votes from Greens and about 1,200 from nationalists and maybe some core unionist voters tactically voting against DUP. The bottom line is that Farry only got 45% of the votes cast against 50% for combined unionists.

On the plus side for Alliance is Farry has performed well at Westminster.

The downside is that Farry is not on the ballot paper.

The mantle of Alliance front-runner goes to Andrew Muir. He seems to have the lions share of the election posters around Holywood and Bangor. Running mate, Connie Egan seems to be based in other parts of the constituency. The only posters I could photograph where seen from a bus.

Alliance could take a seat here…but is it the Green seat?

Alex Easton is based in Donaghadee but his posters are in Holywood and Bangor. He left DUP last year, apparently fed up with internal bickering which probably frustrates DUP voters. He already has a constituency-wide profile, having topped the poll in 2017 and been runner up to Farry in the Westminster election.

The position of the Green Party is interesting. Thru Brian Wilson (occasionally Alliance) and Steven Agnew, there is a consistent Green presence in the cinstituency. Agnew was elected in 2011 and was Leader of the party but he left politics in 2019. Rachel Woods was co-opted to replace him. She had been a local councillor.

But as the Greens stood aside in the Westminster election, she is untested at this level. But she has made an impression with legislation to support victims of domestic abuse.

The downside is that while the Green Party are the brand leaders in terms of the “environment”, all parties are now “green” to a limited and more pragmatic level.

The figures…well just over 5,000 votes for Steven Agnew was not too far off a quota. But has standing aside for Stephen Farry (Alliance) in 2019 helped or has it stalled the Green momentum?

John Gordon (TUV). What can I say? His transfers might help Dunne (DUP).

Declaration of Interest. I have met Deirdre. I think she is an excellent candidate.

I have often referenced Alasdair McDonnell’s statement (10th March 2012) that there is a “horseshoe” of towns and villages around Belfast Lough, where SDLP has no real presence.

There are two reasons. The reluctance of (maybe) vulnerable people to raise their heads above the parapet and declare themselves as SDLP candidates or sign nomination papers for those who are willing to stand.

The second reason is I think (and it pains me to say it) acceptance of this by the SDLP hierarchy. I contend that no District Electoral Area should be left uncontested. It is a right…a duty even …for SDLP and every party to offer a manifesto to every voter.

I believe this to be a right and a duty for TUV in Crossmaglen and for Sinn Féin in Bushmills. And certainly for SDLP in Donaghadee. There should be mechanisms to facilitate it…eg the need for the ten supporters to be on a local register.

To some extent, SDLP has tried to resolve this (or made it worse maybe) by nominating candidates from outside the constituency. It has never really worked.

Whether in historic terms …as Irish, as nationalists and as social democrats, a potential SDLP voter in Holywood is no different from a potential SDLP voter in Derry. Yes everyone has a specifically local culture and issues but it all works best when a knowledgeable person FROM the constituency steps forward.

So Deirdre Vaughan is the pathfinder.

Deirdre is not just playing Big Politics here. It is more about cycle ways, beach clean ups and traffic light provision and seems angled towards working mothers and everyday issues.

In the first two General Elections of the 21st century, SDLP got over 1,000 votes in North Down. In three most recent, they have not bettered 700.

Pretty much a similar story in Assembly elections.

So that is the first challenge…….add votes. While never likely to win a Stormont seat, there is the potential to create a SDLP bloc of votes than can influence outcomes.

The focus is largely on the ballot boxes in Holywood. The next local election is only two years away.

But SDLP on Ormeau Road need to play a part. Treat North Down, East Antrim and East Belfast and their representatives as genuine partners.

Ray McKimm posters are all over Bangor and Holywood. He is an Independent councillor. Usually at this level, Independents are limited to a specific issue or a very narrow geographical area. There is a you-tube interview…a bit sychophantic with Nuala McKeever. McKimm’s pitch is that People Before Party, slightly utopian but he makes good points about well-being. He is a maverick and that is typical of politics in North Down.

If it is North Down there has to be a Tory. In 2022 it is Matthew Robinson who got almost 2,000 votes in 2019.

Therese McCartney is standing for Sinn Féin.

And Chris Carter is an Independent.

PREDICTION.

None. But if there is any traction at all in an Alliance “surge” this is the key battleground.

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