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Constituency profile: North Antrim

WHAT’S THE STORY?

This constituency is a DUP heartland and any change could make a big impact at Stormont. It is the TUV’s first Assembly election and its best chance of a seat at Stormont. It is also the first time in 41 years that the DUP hasn’t fielded a Paisley here.

Robert Coulter, the veteran UUP MLA, has also stood down. To add uncertainty to the mix there have been big boundary changes.

Three nationalist wards from the Moyle Council area — the bulk of the Glens of Antrim — have been transferred out of the constituency to East Antrim. That creates a doubt over whether two nationalists can be returned.

MAIN RUNNERS

The man to watch is the TUV’s Jim Allister. His political career, and the future of his party, hinges on winning a seat.

He looks well-placed to do so but the decision to run a second candidate, Audrey Patterson, could be risky.

Interest will also centre on two sitting nationalist MLAs, the SDLP’s Declan O’Loan and Sinn Fein’s Daithai McKay, who got in with less than two quotas between them last time. This time they have lost a large chunk of their support base in the boundary changes.

Nicholas White, the election expert, reckons that 1,600 nationalist voters (900 SF and 700 SDLP) have been transferred to East Antrim.

Mr O’Loan, who took the last seat under quota in 2007, may be hardest hit in real terms. Last year he suggested a pact with Sinn Fein aimed at securing transfers. He will certainly need them to survive and he could also be saved

if nationalists are motivated to turn out in higher numbers to stop Allister. It will be interesting to see if Mervyn Storey, the DUP’s front-runner, tops the poll in the absence of Ian Paisley snr and jnr, who are now in the Lords and Commons respectively.

VERDICT

On the figures it will be three DUP, one UUP, one TUV and one SF and the bookies are giving odds of 1/3 on that outcome. That means Declan O’Loan effectively losing his seat to Jim Allister.

However, with so many faces changing nothing is entirely certain. We don’t know, for instance, how Mr Coulter’s UUP vote will carry over to Robin Swann and Bill Kennedy, the two less known UUP candidates who are replacing him. On 2010 figures the TUV |has a quota and then some, but could splitting it between two candidates backfire on Mr Allister? So there are still enough possibilities to motivate voters and add interest to this contest.

OUTGOING ASSEMBLY MEMBERS (asterisk denotes they are running again)

Ian Paisley snr MP (DUP) 7716 (17.4%)

Daithi McKay (SF) 7065 (15.9%)

Ian Paisley jnr (DUP) 6106 (13.8%)

Mervyn Storey (DUP) 5171 (11.7%)

Robert Coulter (UUP) 5047 (11.4%)

Declan O'Loan (SDLP) 3281 (7.4%)

2010 Share of the vote compared to 2007

DUP 46.4% (-2.6%)

TUV 16.8% (didn’t stand)

Sinn Féin 12.4% (-3.5%)

UCUNF/UUP 10.9% (-3.4%)

SDLP 8.8% (-3.4%)

Alliance 3.2% (+0.4%)

Independent 1.4% (didn’t stand)

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