#AE16 North Antrim: DUP to comfortably retain the whip hand…

Candidates: [DUP] Paul Frew, Phillip Logan, David McIlveen, Mervyn Storey; [UUP] Robin Swann, Andrew Wright; [TUV] Jim Allister, Timothy Gaston; [SF]Daithí McKay; [UKIP] Donna Anderson; [SDLP] Connor Duncan; [Alliance] Stephen McFarland; [Greens] Jennifer Breslin; [NI Conservative] James Simpson; [LRC] Kathryn Johnston.
Affirmative conclusion from a negative premise

North Antrim consists of some of the most stunning coastal scenery in Ireland, taking in the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Ballycastle and the Glens of Antrim. The bulk of the population though is in the larger towns of Ballymoney and Ballymena.

With a traditionally large farming base and larger industrial employers in Ballymena educational achievement here is relatively low at all levels. After boundary changes before 2011, it became 2.7% less Catholic, and 2.6% more Protestant making a second nationalist unviable.

For the first time Jim Allister has a TUV running mate, Cllr Timothy Gaston. According to Nicholas Whyte’s projections, the TUV took 16% (a healthy 6694 votes) of the last election. It makes sense to blood the young councillor even though Allister looks for a quota, but there’s no space for a second.

The big local ‘firm’ here is the DUP. Paul Frew topped the poll here last time, with the better known Mervyn Storey coming in shortly afterwards. If the council election pattern holds for them there could be a tough fight with the UUP to retain their third seat.

They are sticking with the same policy of running four candidates as they did last time. That may give them important elimination options when it gets to the bottom of the count, but it could be tight.

The other two certainities for a seat is Daithí McKay for Sinn Fein who has safely captured the Nationalist quota here, and Robin Swann of the UUP. Swann might have been hopeful of a second for his running mate Andrew Wright after taking 23% in the 2014 locals.

The DUP’s strong showing in last year’s Westminster election showed something of a return to dominance. With Allister taking the second non DUP, a fourth is not likely. Ministerial profile for Storey and Frew’s high profile on the Agriculture committee should bring them home top.

The question is whether the third seat goes to David McIlveen, or new boy Phillip Logan.

Prediction: DUP 3, Sinn Fein 1, UUP 1, TUV 1.