Belfast Telegraph

South Antrim 2015: Candidate living in a castle hopes to keep out William McCrea

By Rebecca Black

This seat has the potential to become the story of the election if the UUP realise their dream of winning it back from the DUP.

The word pact is as far away as the Arctic Circle for unionists in this part of the world keenly competing for the seat.

It is a mainly rural constituency which stretches from the River Bann in the west and Lough Neagh, all the way to the outskirts of north Belfast.

The biggest towns are Antrim and Ballyclare.

One of the biggest employers is the International Airport.

Agriculture and fisheries are also a major source of employment with one of the biggest eel farms in the UK located at Toome.

The UUP held this seat for generations and it was their strongest vote of all the constituencies in 1997, but in the heated aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, the DUP's William McCrea won the seat in a by-election in 2000. Ulster Unionist David Burnside managed to snatch it back in 2001, but the seat went back to Mr McCrea in 2005.

Determined to win it again, the UUP ran former party leader Reg Empey in the constituency in the 2010 general election, however Mr McCrea held on by more than 1,000 votes.

This year the UUP is running South Antrim MLA Danny Kinahan against Mr McCrea and are quietly optimistic. There are rumoured hopes that some Alliance voters may back Mr Kinahan tactically to unseat Mr McCrea, but this seems less likely than it may have before after the tensions around the flag protests.

Fundamentalist preacher Mr McCrea, who still lives in Magherafelt, and former soldier Danny Kinahan, who lives in a castle, in many ways represent the historic stereotypes of each of their parties.

Election expert Nicholas Whyte has described this seat as one the UUP could potentially win back in a good year. But also points out that they haven't had many good years recently.

Mr McCrea's response so far to UUP hopes has been "dream on".

Mr Kinahan has taken the slap down with a pinch of salt, emphasising that the race is "extremely close at the moment. It is basically a choice between Dr McCrea and myself as there is no one else who can get the numbers to win," he said.

Belfast Telegraph


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