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Rivals make final pitch in 'too-tight-to-call' battle for the East

With less than a week until polling, Noel McAdam joins the DUP and Alliance canvassing in East Belfast

Published 02/05/2015

Alliance’s Naomi Long and Gavin Robinson of DUP have a discussion after the debate at the Willowfield church in east Belfast last month
Alliance’s Naomi Long and Gavin Robinson of DUP have a discussion after the debate at the Willowfield church in east Belfast last month

It is now under a week to polling day, and Naomi Long and Gavin Robinson are pounding the pavements in the election's most electric contest.

Both parties have completed their initial canvass of the constituency, leaving nothing to chance. The DUP remains confident of regaining the seat, while Alliance insists it is "incredibly tight".

Robinson and his team are out on the stump around the Sandown/Knock Road, which is not traditional DUP turf but the type of area where the former Lord Mayor must garner support to be certain of clinching the seat.

Most nights, Alliance has teams canvassing door-to-door in areas from Ballybeen to the Short Strand, fighting to hold onto their only parliamentary seat.

One squad includes Long's councillor husband Michael, who in Cregagh Road on Wednesday night was greeted by a woman saying she would vote a "thousand times" for Naomi - but it is not like that everywhere.

"There is always a bit of abuse," says Naomi, "but we have also had a lot of people who have never voted Alliance saying they are going to vote for me this time."

A former Lord Mayor herself, Long says she has knocked 99% of the accessible doors and will return over the next few days to the homes where people were out.

"I am quite optimistic about the prospects - it is certainly all to play for," she adds. "We are determined to give this our best shot."

Gavin, meanwhile, insists he is also getting support from beyond the DUP base, despite the recent controversy over same-sex couples that led to Jim Wells resigning as Health Minister.

"One young lesbian couple absolutely dumbfounded Naomi when they told her they were voting for me," he grins. "And they were also a mixed couple."

A few hours earlier, the Robinson team was out in a much more Alliance/Ulster Unionist neighbourhood - former UUP leader Lord Reg Empey lives nearby - where they expected to come under fire over his party's pact with the Ulster Unionists.

"Jim's resignation came up earlier in the week, but with most people voicing their sympathy for him," says Gavin. "People generally are more generous than the political class, I think."

Some however have voiced their anger over the agreement. "We have got some gyp about it, but it tends to come from Alliance supporters," Gavin adds.

Senior Ulster Unionists, including councillor Jim Rodgers and former adviser Philip Robinson, have joined the canvas team, which also includes Gavin's father, John, who has just retired from his job with First Trust Bank.

Only one woman admits she thought Gavin Robinson was the son of First Minister Peter Robinson, who joined Gavin on another evening. In fact, the main 'Robinson' issue that comes up is when a woman in Knoxvale Park asks to see Gavin to talk about the closed Robinson Centre. He goes back up the street to speak to her, at some length.

Gavin has a light, easy manner on the doorstep and doesn't push people. There is no hard sell. He does sometimes ask if they have any questions. Most don't.

Afternoons are patchy - even when people are in, they can be childminders or teenagers. So the main push is left for the evenings. Of which there are only six left.

Belfast Telegraph

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