♯LE19: DUP focus on consolidation and advances in key council areas

In 2014, the DUP confirmed their status as the largest party at local government level in Northern Ireland, becoming the largest party on six of the newly created eleven councils and the largest unionist party on every council except for Fermanagh and Omagh Council.

Compared (notionally) to their performance at the final elections to the 26 district councils in 2011, the DUP performance in 2014 represented a loss of fifteen seats statewide, with the UUP the chief beneficiaries.

The TUV had a very good outing in 2014 too, taking 13 seats, including eight between two councils (Mid and East Antrim & Causeway Coast and Glens), giving the DUP a number of obvious target seats as they strive to translate their dominant electoral position within unionism into a greater share of seats next week.

The DUP will be hoping to take outright control of a number of councils, including Lisburn and Castlereagh Council, where they took 20 of the 40 seats in 2014. The party will also hope to reach the pivotal 21 seat tally on Ards and North Down Council (17 seats) and on Mid and East Antrim Council (16 seats), but both may prove to be just beyond them this time- though a collapse in TUV and UUP support could make the latter more achievable. (Update: The DUP are fielding 19 candidates in Ards & North Down as well as Mid & East Antrim, so securing an outright majority will definitely be beyond them there this time- H/T Paddy!)

DUP representation on the four majority nationalist councils is already approaching optimum level thanks to seats won in 2014 and the significant advantage the UUP appear to hold (electorally) over the senior unionist party in a number of DEAs.

In Newry, Mourne and Down, holding seats already won is the challenge, though the DUP adding to their tally by claiming the solitary unionist seat in Slieve Gullion with only 24% of the unionist vote in 2014 would signal a collapse of the UUP support.

In Derry and Strabane, the DUP challenge will be to hold all three seats in Waterside. The two DUP seats in Faughan and in Sperrin look safe, whilst a surge in support will be required to seize the UUP seat and take two in Derg.

In Mid Ulster, the DUP will seek to hold its two seats in Clogher Valley and Dungannon is likely to return two DUP seats, with the party hoping to increase its first preference vote lead over the UUP from the 38 vote advantage from 2014. The DUP will be targeting a new seat from the UUP in Magherafelt (giving them two in this DEA) and will target the UUP’s grasp of the solitary unionist seat in Torrent. Claiming the third unionist seat in Cookstown will require a significant reversal of fortunes for the DUP, whose candidates secured just over a half of the UUP’s total in 2014.

Fermanagh and Omagh stands as the last real bastion for the Ulster Unionist Party, a council which saw the UUP outpoll the DUP on five of its seven DEAs in 2014. In Erne North, the UUP gained almost three times the votes of the DUP in 2014, so claiming a second DUP seat here will be very difficult. Similarly, in Enniskillen, the party will need to outpoll the UUP in first preferences decisively and hope that transfers do not give the UUP the edge for the third unionist seat. In West Tyrone and Erne East the DUP are only running single candidates in a bid to hold seats already won in 2014, whilst the UUP advantage in Erne West and Mid Tyrone in the battles for the solitary unionist seats is such that they claimed almost 80% of unionist votes in Erne West and 66% in Mid Tyrone in 2014, making the DUP’s task seem beyond them at this point.

In Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, the DUP will target a third seat in Portadown from either UKIP or the UUP, likely facing a challenge from nationalists for a second seat between SF and the SDLP. The UUP hold a significant advantage in Banbridge where the DUP are only seeking to retain their two seats, whilst the party could face pressure from Alliance for its third seat in Lagan River. The popularity of Independent (and former DUP man) Paul Berry continues to scupper their project for two seats in Cusher. The party is seeking only to hold its two seats in Craigavon and in Lurgan, as well as the solitary seat in Armagh, where the DUP will hope to eat into the UUP’s significant electoral advantage from 2014.

The DUP claimed 15 seats in Antrim & Newtownabbey Council in 2014 and, whilst they will naturally hope to increase on this tally next month, it is difficult to identify potential gains across the council’s DEAs.

In Ballyclare, the party will push for three seats in a five-seat constituency from a 2014 base of 35.8%. The UUP vote then was 29% and, with Alliance receiving 15.5%, the DUP would do well to deliver the additional seat here. The party are seeking to hold their three seats in Three Mile Water, while Macedon could see a rare DUP loss in the event that Sinn Fein claim a new seat, though it’s more likely that would come at the expense of the TUV seat as the DUP seek to push their vote share in this DEA above 50%. Two seats should be returned in Antrim and Dunsilly (though the DUP are running a third in the former), with potential nationalist seat gains in both more likely to come at the UUP’s expense.

The candidacy of Alison Bennington has been the focus for much media attention in recent days, and the DUP are hoping to secure an additional seat in Glengormley Urban at the UUP’s expense. Airport is one of the small number of DEAs in which the UUP have greater representation than the DUP, and the DUP push to wrestle the third unionist seat will require the party developing a significant first preference vote lead to counter the sizeable Alliance/NI21 vote bloc from 2014 which is likely to transfer in large numbers to the UUP.

In Lisburn and Castlereagh, the DUP’s excellent showing five years ago means that prospective new seats are few and far between this time around. The party are seeking to hold seats gained in 2014 in Lisburn South (4), Lisburn North (3), Killultagh (3) and Downshire East (3), though they are targeting third seats at the expense of the UUP in Downshire West and Castlereagh South. One of the DUP’s strongest DEAs across the north in terms of electoral support is Castlereagh East, where they took over 48% in 2014, and they will be seeking to claim a fourth seat in this seven-seater at the expense of the UUP or TUV.

In Ards and North Down, it is a similar story of consolidation, though the DUP are targeting the TUV seat in Comber to bring their tally to three seats in the DEA. Elsewhere, they are looking only to retain their seats won in 2014 respectively in Ards Peninsula (3), Bangor East and Donaghadee (3), Newtownards (3), Holywood and Clandeboye (2) and Bangor West (2). In Bangor Central, the party are seeking to claim a third seat from a base of 28% of the vote in 2014, most likely from the UUP, who managed to secure two seats from a 15.7% share.

If the DUP’s pre-eminent theme is one of holding ground taken in 2014 across most of the council areas, it is in the three council areas of Causeway Coast and Glens, Mid and East Antrim and Belfast that they have the greatest hopes for advances this time around.

In Causeway Coast and Glens, the DUP are targeting third seats in Causeway and Coleraine at the expense of the TUV and PUP respectively, and in Bann at the expense of the UUP, though the latter will require a significant surge in support away from the UUP to the DUP and is also a DEA in which a nationalist gain is possible. The DUP will seek to take all three unionist seats in Limavady, where they held a 40%-15% lead over the UUP in 2014, and will push the UUP to claim the solitary unionist seat in The Glens.

In Mid and East Antrim, the DUP took 16 seats five years ago, and the party will have high hopes of increasing that number particularly due to the performance of the TUV in claiming 5 seats in 2014. The DUP will aim for third seats in Knockagh and Larne Lough at the UUP’s expense, though achieving that objective in Larne Lough would require a plunge in the UUP vote. In Coast Road and Bannside, the DUP have their sights set on claiming TUV seats, the latter DEA being notable for standing apart as the only constituency across the north of Ireland in which multiple TUV councillors were returned in 2014. The DUP’s objective is to return seats won in 2014 in Braid (4) and Carrick Castle (2) and they are running a fourth candidate in Ballymena in an effort to take the UUP seat.

In Belfast, the DUP will hope to capitalise on their 2017 Westminster successes in the city by further consolidating their electoral base at the expense of the smaller unionist parties. In Court, they would hope to claim Jolene Bunting’s seat to bring their total to three in this DEA, whilst targeting the PUP seat of Julie-Ann Corr in Oldpark and returning the two seats held from 2014 in Castle.

Across the city, the DUP are seeking to double their representation in a number of south Belfast DEAs by targeting the solitary UUP seats in Balmoral and Botanic. In each of the south and east DEAs in which the party secured two seats in 2014- Ormiston, Lisnasharragh and Titanic, the party is targeting a third seat this time, with the Greens particularly vulnerable in Ormiston.

Given the context of the on-going political deadlock and electoral surge to the DUP in 2017, success for the party in this election should involve a further consolidation of its position as the dominant voice of unionism, with a gain of 10-15 seats across the eleven councils, compensating for seats notionally lost five years ago.