Can a Unionist win in West Belfast?

When we think about West Belfast in this election, the focus generally goes to Gerry Carroll, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

But there is another contender for one of the final seats and that is the DUP’s Frank McCoubrey.

Tonight I was invited out on the canvass with the candidate and the party’s deputy leader, Nigel Dodds.

A team of 10 canvassers covered more than several hundred houses over two and half hours of pounding the streets.

Before we began, the campaign manager, Phillip briefed the canvassers on some of the key issues in the local area and made sure that canvassers were aware of the work that Frank had been doing locally and the party’s position on some relevant matters.

Some noteworthy things I picked up from this canvass was that the All About Arlene factor is a real card for the DUP. Whenever a canvasser was presented with a query about the candidate, the conversation would quickly turn towards “we want Arlene back as First Minister” which seemed to resonate with some punters on the doors.

McCoubrey himself is a well known face in the area with many knowing who his work from his run on Belfast City Council and a relatively high profile amongst sections of the Unionist electorate in the constituency. He seemed to be very relaxed and comfortable talking with people and as a candidate confident that Unionists would turn out in enough numbers to help put him over the line.

Some of the folks behind the campaign are aware that this is an uphill struggle that means they cannot afford to let many voters stay at home or miss a trick in terms of getting round as many houses as possible or leave any issues raised not dealt with.

As I walked around I listened to some of issues people were raising on the door, some folks were concerned about classroom assistants, one gentleman raised the DUP’s opposition to same sex marriage and others raised some concern about aspects of the delivery at Stormont.

Essentially I found the DUP pitch to be simple, West Belfast has been without Unionist representation at a Assembly level of 9 years and that if people turned out, McCoubrey had a chance to get in, which alluded to their wider message of supporting Arlene Foster.

Can he win?

With such a tight race it is three weeks out impossible to call either way.

One constant across West Belfast is that Gerry Carroll’s growth in support has changed the dynamic of this election in the constituency. Where do his transfers go, if he even has any? Will Attwood be squeezed by a rising Carroll and Unionist vote? Will enough Unionists turnout and enough Nationalists stay home?

I suppose at the end of the canvass, I was left with more questions than answers.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

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