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East Antrim: DUP's Sammy Wilson a sure thing but his real ambitions lie closer to home

By Noel McAdam

Published 28/04/2015

Sammy Wilson has been reported to the Assembly standards watchdog over his remarks
Sammy Wilson has been reported to the Assembly standards watchdog over his remarks

People are older in East Antrim. The coastal constituency has a much higher median age (40) compared to the overall average (between 32-35) of the others, with 15% of the total population retired. Only North Down is older (42).

But it is not only the grey vote which makes Sammy Wilson look a safe bet to hold onto East Antrim for the DUP. The Belfast Telegraph's polling partner, Lucidtalk, says Wilson is a "certainty".

The question, however, is whether he will stay on as the area's MP for much longer afterwards.

For the double-jobbing former Finance and Environment Minister must choose between the House of Commons and the House on the hill in the relatively near future.

And there is speculation that Mr Wilson will opt for Stormont, where he will be a major contender for the party leadership in a post-Peter Robinson scenario.

Such uncertainty over his tenure could potentially have a knock-on effect on the performance of the Ulster Unionist, TUV and even Alliance candidates, although it does not appear uppermost in voters' minds.

He is not the only Wilson in the race - three of the eight candidates have the same surname - and one wonders how many voters just might put the 'X' beside the 'wrong' Wilson.

This may work in the particular favour of Ruth Wilson of the TUV which had failed to break through in the constituency until last year's council elections and is now eyeing a potential Assembly seat.

Jim Allister's right-hand man at Stormont, Sammy Morrison - standing in Lagan Valley this time - failed to make a breakthrough in 2010.

There is a striking contest on the nationalist side, however. Sinn Fein standard-bearer Oliver McMullan is aiming to at least maintain the party's success in the last Assembly race where boundary changes which favoured nationalists actually resulted in a seat for him - the only constituency where this happened.

But the SDLP's Margaret Anne McKillop is a former Sinn Fein member who resigned over allegations of a "culture of bullying" in the party.

She performed well for her new party in last year's elections to the new Causeway Coast and Glens super-council and the SDLP is hoping to build on that.

And while the nationalist battle is essentially a side-show, it will be interesting to see if the SDLP can again pull ahead of Sinn Fein in the constituency.

Sammy Wilson first fought the constituency in 2001, and battled veteran Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs senior to a 0.4% vote difference, which left him in pole position for 2005.

Last time, the UU challenger was Rodney McCune, this time standing in South Belfast, who was then on the ill-fated joint Ulster Unionist/Conservative tie-up.

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