What’s the story?
With a predominantly Protestant population, the largely rural South Antrim constituency has traditionally seen a back-and-forth swing between the UUP and DUP candidates.
This year, with changes to the electoral boundaries, the area will see increased competition between unionist candidates as the loss of a number of local government wards to North Belfast will see the Catholic share of the vote fall by 2.3%.
The DUP, UUP and TUV will be fighting for unionist votes, and while the popular DUP MP William McCrea is absent from the ballot paper, the DUP’s third seat bid could prove out of reach.
The UUP will be looking to bounce back from last year’s Westminster elections when an appearance from then party leader Reg Empey resulted in a failed attempt to unseat Mr McCrea. But despite all the noise from the unionist camp, it was Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin who took the top spot in the last Assembly elections, as unionist candidates split the vote.
The last Assembly elections finished with McCrea and Trevor Clarke claiming two seats for the DUP, while the UUP, Alliance and SDLP managed one seat each.
Runners and Riders
With McCrea out of the running, the DUP will be fielding three candidates — veteran Trevor Clarke, Paul Girvan and Antrim mayor Pam Lewis.
The DUP trio will face opposition from a UUP advance of Danny Kinahan and Adrian Watson, although it is expected only one will gain a seat. Meanwhile, former DUP member and TUV candidate Mel Lewis could profit over the SDLP’s only seat in the area.
Outgoing SDLP MLA Thomas Burns could find his seat in danger while Sinn Fein’s McLaughlin will be more than hopeful of retaining a seat in the Assembly for a fourth consecutive time, running two successful election campaigns in Foyle previous to a South Antrim victory in 2007. Meanwhile, Justice Minister David Ford will be looking to build on his position . And finally, the BNP will be fielding Steven Parkes.
The absence of unionist heavyweights McCrea and David Burnside, coupled with boundary changes, make this one to watch. Candidates likely to retain seats include McLaughlin and Ford. The DUP is expected to retain two seats, leaving the TUV, SDLP and UUP to fight it out.
Outgoing Assembly Members (Asterisk denotes they are running again)
* Mitchel McLaughlin (SF) 6313 (16.5%)
William McCrea MP (DUP) 6023 (15.8%)
* David Ford (Alliance) 5007 (13.1%)
David Burnside (UUP) 4507 (11.8%)
* Trevor Clarke (DUP) 4302 (11.3%)
* Mel Lucas (DUP) 2840 (7.4%) (Running with TUV in 2011)
* Thomas Burns (SDLP) 2721 (7.1%)
2010 Share of the vote, compared to 2007
DUP 33.9% (34.5%)
UUP 30.4% (20.5%)
SF 13.9% (16.5%)
Alliance 7.7% (13.1%)
SDLP 8.7% (11.1%)
Other 5.4% (4.1%)