#AE16 East Antrim: One UKIPer in, one Sinn Feiner and one DUPer out?

Candidates: [DUP] David Hilditch, Gordon Lyons, Alastair Ross; [UUP] Roy Beggs, Maureen Morrow, John Stewart; [Alliance] Stewart Dickson, Danny Donnelly; [Sinn Fein] Oliver McMullan; [UKIP] Noel Jordan; [TUV] Ruth Wilson; [SDLP] Margaret Anne McKillop; [PUP] Jim McCaw; [Greens] Dawn Patterson; [Labour Alternative] Conor Sheridan.

Third smallest constituency East Antrim begins at Belfast and hugs the coast up to the Glens of Antrim. It is 70.1 Protestant, 20.4 Catholic and 8.5 (double the 2001 figure) no religion. It has the lowest proportion of students enrolled in further education at 16+.

The perennial question is can the DUP can hold their three seats, now that Sammy Wilson has plumped for Westminster. Prior to the St Andrews Agreement (and the rise of the TUV), Sammy hit a height of 49.6%. But it has been downhill for the DUP since then.

Nicholas Whyte extrapolates the DUP local election vote in 2014 was 29%, down from a 2005 figure of 40.0%. They’ve dropped the fourth and without Sammy’s vote to balance they might get enough room to get all home.

It’s far from easy though. Two things have happened. There’s been a modest rise in the UUP’s vote: 23% in 2014. And much of that lost 2005 DUP vote has splintered first to the TUV and latterly to UKIP. Each on their own is insufficient to make quota in an STV election.

But at Westminster the UKIP candidate Noel Jordan came in comfortably ahead of the TUV. Whomever gets ahead this time should push the other into a fifth seat: leaving a three way tussle between the second UUP, the third DUP, the only SF candidates for the sixth.

Even choosing who will be in that hotseat for the DUP is hard. My hunch is that Ross is probably okay. Hilditch too as the longest serving MLA. Co-optee Gordon Lyons may end up getting edged out of sixth by a sliver by local businessman John Stewart.

Boundary changes made EA 4.1% more Catholic, and 3.9% less Protestant, which ought to have made SF’s Oliver McMullan’s defence easier. But nationalist seats are difficult to hold here, as Catholics don’t corral as easily into an exclusvily nat lobby as elsewhere.

The key problem for McMullan is the differential in turnout between unionism and nationalism since the flag dispute. Even if all the SDLP eleminations go straight to him (they won’t) the core numbers just don’t seem to be there to hold back a flowing unionist tide.

Predictions: 2 DUP; 2 UUP; 1 UKIP; 1 Alliance.

Previously West Tyrone. Next, Newry and Armagh.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • the keep

    I have a feeling that the Dup will win three UUP 1 Alliance 1 and SF 1 only because of the Arlene bounce this time.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Sammy’s vote went down 9.7% on the arrival of UKIP and the TUV, it’s going to be one or other but not both Mick. Probably explains Sammy Wilson going to the “Get the Ethnics Out” mentality.

    Sammy’s not even in the contest which makes consolidating seat three a little bit harder, but the DUP could actually benefit from the lesser of two evils mentality in terms of transfers, even though that’s very unlikely.

    UUP benefiting from being the lesser of three evils might ensure they get a seat, but it will pretty much be at the expense of the DUP, UKIP and the TUV.

    Alliance and the UUP pretty much share a similar contrast, there are two safe seats between two parties here, but getting more will be a stretch. Your analysis relies on plenty of stay at home UUP voters coming off the armchair from a position of not voting at Westminster.

    So saying this McMullen and McKillop probably do have a seat between them I would feel. “Independent McMullen” was and is a great acquisition by Sinn Féin.

    Prediction DUP seat loss to UKIP, possible SDLP gain from Sinn Féin. 😉

  • Kevin Breslin

    Shame Sammy isn’t standing, comic book nerds watching this contest on Twitter would wonder why Falcon is taking on Green Lantern in some political contest on the East coast of Ulster.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Bad enough “Hush” is an MP.

  • mickfealty

    Thanks for the smiley Kevin. A party hack with a sense of humour!!

  • Msiegnaro

    Interestingly it’s Ruth Wilson who is being mentioned with regards to taking a seat here. I know she has been blooded over a number of elections and currently holds the position of councillor.

    UKIP had a big bounce nationally in 2015, however I don’t think this will be replicated here especially with the loss of Reilly in south Down to TUV and McNarry’s pantomime on Nolan.

    My prediction is the TUV sneaking this one.

  • Gingray

    Nationalists should have a seat here between the parties, but all comes down to turnout.

    2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 TUV, 1 Alliance, 1 SF

  • Msiegnaro

    Concur with this, SF should hold and a TUV gain.

  • mickfealty

    Intrigued by the TUV gain here?

  • Kevin Breslin

    TUV/UKIP, Cad é la Différence?

  • Msiegnaro

    Wilson has been blooded a few times in this constituency Mick, UKIP are seen more as a south of England party and UKIP don’t have their NI stalwart anymore in the name of Henry Reilly. TUV are keen to keep Wilson under the radar on this one and I know the UUP camp are extremely concerned regarding her.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Between 2001 and 2011 the Catholic population of Northern Ireland increased by 80,000 and the Protestant declined by 20,000. The figures for comparable growth between 2011 and 2021 will not be available till 2022, but the null hypothesis is that the growth rates would be the same, so that between the last Assembly election in 2011 and the 2016 one which is almost upon us, the population of Northern Ireland will contain 40,000 more Catholics and 10,000 less Protestants.

    For those of us who think people vote in the first place within the designations they were brought up in and not for the wonderful arguments made by politicians, that means we do not expect Nationalist losses, except perhaps in West Belfast, where uniquely among the 18 constituencies the Catholic percentage of the population has fallen.

    In East Antrim the Catholic population is rising, and the Protestant population has fallen, but only slightly.

    Though the election of McMullan was aberrant in the extreme—I would have classed it as impossible at the time—we have to ask what has changed that means it will not be repeated. What has changed is that there is now a slightly higher Catholic population and where there were 3 Unionist parties there are now 4.

    Another factor is that as time passes there is a tendency for the SDLP vote to diminish gradually and the SF one to rise, as SF becomes slightly more respectable and the older SDLP voters die off.

    The key problem for McMullan is the differential in turnout between unionism and nationalism since the flag dispute.

    The results of the last election surprised and wrong-footed me because I assumed that the low Unionist turn-out would continue. But if we are in the thralls of a turn-out war then the Nationalist side has had a year in which to take stock of their position. Generally, turn-out battles in the past have been won by the Nationalists, as when Martin McGuinness took Mid Ulster on an 82% turn-out. They just have to know that it’s happening.

    So I expect McMullan to be returned.

    The TUV got 5.7% of the vote last year and UKIP 10.9%. So anyone who states that TUV are going to beat UKIP this time round is merely talking up their preferred candidate.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Is Mick my new nickname, thanks if that’s the case.

  • Msiegnaro

    Apologies, I was responding to Mick’s query about the potential TUV gain.

  • Kevin Breslin

    My bad.

  • Kevin Breslin

    If the DUP get in three, it will be because everyone else transfers to keep out the UKIP/TUV share of the votes from getting one of their candidates in instead.

    Not sure how much sway Arlene has in East Antrim or how much of problem Peter Robinson was to the DUP in that area.

  • Msiegnaro

    I don’t want to deal with the Catholic ascendency Protestant decline aspect of your post as I don’t feel it would be productive.

    However in the UKIP versus TUV battle there are some very extenuating circumstances. At the Westminster election a vote for UKIP was very much a protest vote, UKIP were on the ascendancy in the mainland and expected to gain MP’s in double digit terms, this did not materialise.

    Coupled with the fact that at the last election UKIP had a big hitter in the name of Henry Reilly in on their side who has since defected to TUV. McNarry the UKIP NI leader is retiring and at present there are no big hitters in UKIP NI.
    Contrast this with TUV who have a dominant leader in Allister who is continually voted the most effective MLA at Stormont.

    Ruth Wilson is also experienced in the area and is not someone parachuted in as of late. She also has the advantage of being a female in a predominantly male constituency and with McNarry implosion on Nolan – Ruth Wilson is the one to watch.

  • the keep

    That’s a fair point in regards to the UKIP/TUV however the Arlene bounce will have a big impact on saving some of the DUP MLA seats especially in constituencies like this one however the only problem is what saves the DUP next time?

  • Doubt people in South Antrim would know who Henry Reilly is. Certainly that didn’t account for the sizeable vote in the Westminster Election. And within Unionism UKIP is seen as a ‘national’ party with a local presence (not SE England). Would think Mick is right on where people stand at point of the transfers, and as elsewhere it’ll all be in the eliminations.

  • Brendan Heading

    The “south of England” party won 10% of the vote in the general election, double the vote of the TUV candidate. It would be foolish to dismiss their chances.

  • Brendan Heading

    Sammy’s vote went down 9.7% on the arrival of UKIP and the TUV

    Arrival ? The TUV have been standing since 2010 and have consistently scored around 5-6% of the vote.

    In the general election, the TUV vote was consistent. the UKIP candidate won 10% of the vote with Sammy losing 9.3% – safe to say that most of the UKIP vote was probably at Sammy’s expense.

  • Croiteir

    To me the fun here is between the SDLP and SF.

    Danny O’Connor won this seat flying the SDLP brat in what was seen at the time as a fluke. The SDLP then shafted him and in effect gifted the seat to Sinn Fein.
    They gave ran no hopers since. McCamphill for example was from Dunloy over the mountains and far away. He now works for a teacher union and has emigrated to Belfast.

    This time is different. McKillop has proven herself. She is as far as I can recall the first defector from Sinn Fein to the SDLP to hold her seat. Colum Thompson of SF lost the final tussle for a council seat to her in Cushendall.

    So we see that she is battle proven. But will this exocet sink the Battleship Mc Mullen.
    Let us not forget that McMullen isn’t the died in the wool shinner that you would think. For many years he was the epitome of the Glens independent. No one told him what to do. After ten years he joined SF (just before the 2003 elections). He has since built a good organisation in Carnlough and Glenariff that McKillop cannot hope to rival. However the SDLP have financed her well with an office in Cushendall to rival Sinn Fein in Carnlough.

    So the question for me is will McKillop, the first credible candidate from SDLP since O’Connor be able to retake the seat from SF? I don’t think so. Not this time. However she will give him a good run. She may even deny him the seat.

    As for the others.

    The UKIP candidate will get the flegger vote as per the council last time.

    UUP will get two. Not sure if it will be Morrow or Beggs. My bet is Morrow as the Glenarm vote will be loyal then Hilditch from DUP followed by Ross. Then Beggs. The last seat will be between McMullen, McKillop, Dickson, Jordan and Wilson. Dickson will get it on transfers from McKillop as she and McMullen will survive the longest. The rest are all also rans ready to drop of at any stage before the final bloodletting.

  • mjh

    This year East Antrim is a contest bristling with sharp knife edges.

    Mick has identified one – whether the unionists will take 4 or 5 seats.

    The case for is based on the results of the 2014 Council Elections and last year’s Westminster. These show that the 4.9 quotas won by unionist parties in 2011 rose to 5.1 equivalent quotas for unionist parties (and those who transferred predominantly with them) in 2014, and this higher level was held in 2015.

    On the other hand transfer leakage could thwart that unionist gain. In 2011 the unionist total dropped 0.2 of a quota during successive stages. A small increase in that leakage could cancel the benefit of a small increase in first preference share. The UUP running three candidates makes this more likely.

    Mick has jumped bravely down on the side of 5. If pressed I would slide unconfidently down on the side of 4.

    A second knife edge is 2 or 3 for the DUP. In 2011 the DUP fared much better in the Assembly than in the Council elections on the same day. Their Assembly score was 3.2 quotas, but their Council performance was much lower, equivalent to 2.5. They slipped to 2.1 in the 2014 Councils. Their 2.5 equivalent in 2015 may be more suggestive of their performance next month. If so that might still yield 3 seats even if the unionist total remains at 4.

    The UUP think they are on the knife edge of gaining a second seat. But the form book suggests otherwise. They held 1.2 quotas in both the Assembly and Council elections in 2011. So their increase to 1.6 in 2014 was a big gain – but most of that seeped away in the following year when they went back down to 1.3. To take two seats with two candidates would be a huge achievement. Running three candidates almost certainly guarantees that the knife edge will slice a fatal chunk out of their vote.

    SF are also on a knife edge. In 2011 the total nationalist Assembly vote was 0.9 quotas. 0.2 were lost when the SDLP was eliminated, and the party took the last place 0.2 below a full quota. Since then the nationalist total has edged back, 0.7 in 2014 and 0.8 in 2015. Those levels could easily cost the party the seat if repeated this year.

    There is no visible knife edge between UKIP and the TUV. With their candidates for the Assembly being the same as squared up against each other last year, there is no reason why the TUV should overturn the 2 to 1 UKIP advantage then. UKIP achieved the equivalent of three quarters of a quota and anything near that this time should almost certainly give them a seat.

    The Alliance Party are clearly hoping for a rerun of last time’s knife edge, but with a different outcome. At the end of Stage 8 they were sitting with 1.43 quotas. SF were on 0.71. If they had managed an absolutely perfect balance between their two candidates SF would have been excluded and the resultant transfers would have carried them to a second seat. They will be hoping that either a) the decline in nationalist votes seen in 2014 and 2015 is replicated again this time, or b) that they gain a few more transfers from unionists, or c) that they gain a few more transfers from the SDLP.

    So 4 or 5 unionists? 2 or 3 DUP? 1 or no SF? 1 or 2 Alliance? With so many questions, honestly reviewing the evidence, the answer must be too close to call.

  • Granni Trixie

    Whilst I certainly thnk Arlene is an advance on PR as FM, not sure she has (yet) got got what it takes to give DUP a bounce.

  • ruhah

    Living in larne- a couple of points. Tuv may well be flying under the radar, it is interesting that Wilson doesn’t have Jim Allister hovering behind her on posters.

    I wonder if Dickson’s support for limited abortion and same sex marriage will hurt his vote among the evangelicals.

  • Msiegnaro

    UKIP had a big bounce due to the nationwide vote, TUV have to be worth a punt here, I do think Ruth Wilson needs to tighten up on her social media page and get out on the ground.

  • Chingford Man

    I’m amazed anyone could call UKIP a “South of England” party. It absolutely is not.

  • Msiegnaro

    Ruth isn’t being photo-bombed as she is considered a strong and recognised candidate, Reilly and Donald Crawford are also not being photo-bombed.

    On that note, Crawford is another TUVer to watch. I spoke to some UUP sources in FST who advised that on the doorstep he gathering a lot of support.

  • Brendan Heading

    UKIP had a big bounce due to the nationwide vote

    You keep saying this, but I don’t think it’s true.

    Here are all the seats where UKIP stood in Northern Ireland :

    Antrim E 10.9% Jordan
    Down S 7.1% Reilly
    Strangford 6.6% Jordan
    Lagan Valley – 5.5% Love
    Belfast S 4.9% Stoker
    Down N 4.1% Lavery
    Antrim N 3.2% Hill
    Foyle 2.2% Thompson
    Belfast W 2.2% Higginson
    Mid Ulster 2.1% Day

    As you can see in East Antrim, Jordan won nearly 11% of the vote, almost two-thirds of a quota, easily beating the far higher profile Henry Reilly. This result is not explained by a national UKIP bump which failed to register in places like North Antrim and North Down.

  • Brendan Heading

    Interestingly it’s Ruth Wilson who is being mentioned with regards to taking a seat here.

    I’m sure all kinds of people are “mentioning” Ruth, but she’s stood in several elections in the area and failed to make a dent. There is no reason to believe that things will be any different this time.

  • Msiegnaro

    She has made some form of a dent at elections as she is an elected Councillor.

  • Brendan Heading

    Yes. You can be a councillor on a thousand or so votes. You need a lot more than that to be an MLA.

  • Msiegnaro

    What you have not taken into account with Reilly is the fact that he is in a Nationalist constituency whereby Jordan is is a predominantly Unionist constituency. Are you giving TUV any hope of getting an extra seat or two?

  • Msiegnaro

    She got almost two thousand at Westminster in a constituency where SW was never going to be unseated.

  • Brendan Heading

    Where are you going with that line of argument ? North Antrim, next door to South Antrim, is an overwhelmingly Unionist constituency. UKIP won 2.1%.

    There is no evidence that the TUV stand to make any gains at all.

  • Msiegnaro

    We’ll see, I think they might do okay.

  • Brendan Heading

    Okay. Well, at least we have established that (a) there is a UKIP presence in East Antrim that substantially exceeds that of every other constituency where they stood and (b) a more Unionist seat is not necessarily likely to support UKIP more than a less Unionist one.

  • Msiegnaro

    I’m not particularly interested in UKIP.

    I think Allister could top the poll in North Antrim with enough of a quota left over to push his running mate Gaston through and then Reilly has a decent chance is SD and I’m not ruling Wilson out either.

  • Brendan Heading

    Neil Jordan got 1600 votes more than she did in a constituency where SW was never going to be unseated.

  • Msiegnaro

    You think Jordan will replicate this?

  • Brendan Heading

    I will repeat myself a third and final time for the slow learners.

    I think that any candidate who wins what would be two thirds of a quota one year before an assembly election has a strong chance of winning a seat.

  • Brendan Heading

    if the TUV are running two candidates and Allister tops the poll, his running mate will lose.

    In terms of your other predictions, it looks like you are dreaming up potential scenarios and passing this off as a prediction. This is not fantasy football.

  • Paddy Reilly

    I would say that the TUV’s chance of winning an extra 2 seats in the election are about the same as Doris Day’s and Val Doonican’s of having a number one spot in the top ten in the next couple of months. But that’s just my personal opinion. Que sara, sara.

  • Msiegnaro

    Or as you would have said in September 2015 it would be the equivalent of Leicester winning the premiership.

  • Msiegnaro

    Alex Kane is interestingly speculating that Jim Allister will bring home more than one this time although he refrains from going into specifics.

  • Johnny Magnum

    The SDLP are running here to stop Sinn Fein keeping their seat. Clear as day.

  • AndyB

    I’ve number crunched on the first prefs. I make it three DUP, one UUP, one Alliance and one UKIP with potentially only Hilditch, Beggs and Dickson making quota.

  • Johnny Magnum

    Humble pie Andy. No one gave SF a hope of retaining their seat but they did.

  • Paddy Reilly

    There is such a thing as transfers. Oliver McMullan got 200 from Alliance!

  • Johnny Magnum

    Oliver actually got just as many transfers off Unionist /Alliance than he did from the SDLP. True he got around 50% SDLP transfers this time as opposed to 25‰ in 2011 but surely time for SDLP to stand aside in East Antrim and SF to do like wise in Strangford.

  • Paddy Reilly

    I got this one right you have to admit. It is totally incomprehensible how a minority party like SF can win a seat with just 8.1% of the 1st preferences and very little in the way of transfers in somewhere like East Antrim where well over 80% of the population hates them, while the entire Unionist population of West Belfast could not put in one DUP man with 10.4% of the 1st prefs and transfers coming from the UUP.

    But the question is, if it happened in 2011, what has changed to prevent it in 2016? Answer: nothing and much to facilitate it.

    McMullan got about 45% of the SDLP transfers, plus some from Alliance and even 50 from the UUP!!!: this made him more popular than UKIP, and so he was elected. It is not certain whether his UUP transfers were from satisfied customers or just Spec Savers refuseniks.

    There may be some worth in playing the man: MacMullan only joined SF in 2003, and so is innocent of its pre-Peace Process connections: McCoubrey’s associations are not universally popular even in Loyalist circles.

    But I would also think SF’s and the SDLP’s restraint in not fielding too many candidates is a factor, whereas the proliferation of Unionist candidates in East Antrim made an obvious quagmire.

  • AndyB

    I don’t know whether to be glad I was wrong or not!