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Stormont’s front runners: the poll from a bookie’s viewpoint

By Liam Clarke

Adrian Eastwood doesn’t get too emotional about elections. His job is to pick winners and, barring a few early miscalculations, he has been making money doing so ever since Gerry Fitt lost West Belfast in 1983.

He first learned the trade working in BJ Eastwood, founded by his father, boxing promoter Barney Eastwood. Now he is still doing it as a consultant for Paul McClean of the Ballymena-based A McClean chain.

This year Mr Eastwood fancies the DUP to emerge as the biggest party and take the First Minister’s post and waxes lyrical about Peter Robinson.

“The DUP have made good strides in the past year,” he said.

“Even though Peter Robinson had problems I think he is over them, and he has made a significant effort to present himself, and the party, as less hardline, and that is voter-friendly. That should help him attract votes from the Ulster Unionists and prevent further slippage to Alliance,” he added.

He's not getting carried away, though. He still thinks that the DUP will lose two or three seats from its current record total of 36.

He said: “The public face of the relationship between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness is fairly good. It is not ‘Chuckle Brothers’, but it strikes people as more genuine.

“Both of them seem determined to make it work.”

That’s not his personal opinion getting in the way of his business judgment. He consults a panel of experts whom he has learned to trust over the years and he pores over past election results.

He reckons Sinn Fein will match its current total of 28, maybe even make it 29, but that’s it. He is backing his opinion that republicans won’t get more than 30, or take the First Minister’s post, with odds of 3/1.

Mind you, there have been mistakes and bookies can come a cropper. A few days ago, due to an inputting error, McClean’s briefly offered odds of 6/1 that Mid Ulster would elect three Sinn Fein MLAs together with one each for the SDLP, DUP and UUP.

“It should have been 1/5 and a few hundred went on before we spotted it. People pore over these things, we’ll just have to take it on the chin,” he said.

There was another panic in Mid Ulster when £250 was placed on Hugh McCloy, an independent candidate, at odds of 16/1.

“We reckon it was a friend of his, but we still shortened the odds to 10/1.”

But be warned, the bookie generally wins in the end.

In one election an SDLP supporter put £5,500 on Joe Hendron to beat Gerry Adams in West Belfast. Eastwood’s immediately made Hendron favourite and next day the Irish News splashed on the news. “At that time our office was off Castle Street and people were getting off all the Falls Road black taxis to put a bet on Adams, and of course once they had done that they voted for him too — it may have swung the outcome,” he said.

In his victory speech, Mr Adams taunted Mr Hendron with the words “on behalf of the people of West Belfast may I say ‘Thank you very, very much Mr Eastwood’”.

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