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Strangford: Jim Shannon racing certainty to return in DUP powerbase

By Liam Clarke

Published 21/04/2015

Strangford MP Jim Shannon
Strangford MP Jim Shannon

If you fancy a flutter on Strangford forget about it. It is one of 10 Northern Ireland constituencies where Paddy Power offer no odds on and this month's LucidTalk panel found it was 100% likely to remain in DUP hands.

Jim Shannon is as close to a racing certainty as you could find. He swept in with 45.9% of the vote in 2010 and last year the DUP performance went up to 48.8%. The party has three out of six MLAs and Mr Shannon's election agent, Simon Hamilton, is the Finance Minister.

No great sectarian passions are exciting the electorate on the doors - canvassers report a lot of talk about local issues, jobs and houses. There is very little mention, by comparison, of flags and marching.

The turnout to vote in such a safe seat is also falling from a quite low base. It went down from 53.8% in 2010 to 48.8% in the 2011 Assembly elections.

It is a triumph for DUP organisation that they have reached this point. The last MP before Mr Shannon was party colleague Iris Robinson who was forced to resign following a breakdown. It was widely expected that she would be defeated if she stood again.

Instead, Mr Shannon stepped in. The surprise result of that election came when Ms Robinson's husband Peter was defeated by Naomi Long of Alliance in East Belfast.

That was part of the fallout from the scandal which involved an affair between Mrs Robinson and a younger man and public criticism of the couple's parliamentary expenses.

Kellie Armstrong, who is standing for Alliance here, isn't tipped to repeat the trick this time in Strangford where Mr Shannon is riding high.

Building the vote ahead of next year's Assembly elections will be the private plan of most of Mr Shannon's opponents. Beating the DUP out of this seat, which Mrs Robinson took from the UUP in 2001, will be, at best, a slow job and everyone knows that.

Nationalist candidates from Sinn Fein and the SDLP have to contend with a census of 73.1% Protestants in the constituency while only slightly less, 71%, said they were British.

One of the most interesting contenders is Joe Jordan, president of Belfast Chamber of Commerce during part of the flags dispute. At that time he blamed the council for the decision to reduce flying of the union flag on Belfast City Hall shortly before Christmas. He suggested they should have waited till February or March. He is now running for Ukip.

Strangford is one of the most affluent constituencies in Northern Ireland though there are poorer areas like the West Winds estate in Newtownards, Ballybeen and Dundonald. It takes in most of Ards Council and parts of Castlereagh as well as the Saintfield area.

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