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Strangford constituency profile

It's all to play for this year in Strangford with two of the 2011 elected MLAs deciding not to run in this year's race.

Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy's retirement last year marks the end of his 18 years on the hill.

While David McNarry's decision not to run after leaving the Ulster Unionists to join UKIP will also leave a second seat open for battle, with the UUP determined to win it back.

The only way UKIP could be confident of retaining is seat would be with David McNarry on the ticket. He's a huge figure in this constituency and although he has support for his Brexit views and is widely respected for his work, his replacement, Stephen Crosby, is not well-known.

In 2011, Kieran McCarthy polled second based on his first preference votes and was elected on the first count. As the only candidate in the constituency to have retained his seat at every Stormont election since the Good Friday Agreement, this normally safe Alliance seat could be up for grabs.

He was replaced by Kellie Armstrong but has may not have had enough time to win the hearts of voters. It's possible that some of Kieran McCarthy's Kircubbin voters would consider backing SDLP candidate Joe Boyle. In 2011, he was the last candidate to be eliminated, polling in seventh place, and he has promising support in the peninsula. Fighting for change and inward investment in the area's rural villages, as well as lobbying for Exploris, his supporters come from both sides of the traditional green and orange divide. Could the effect of his popularity and profile be enough to win the party its first Strangford MLA?

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Surprises could be on the cards in an area where it's not unusual to see voters poll DUP and SDLP on the same voting slip at council level.

Independent Jimmy Menagh has strong backing, particularly in the large estates. His supporters recently to the hills to paint his name in huge letters on the slopes of Scrabo, much to the annoyance of other parties. Mr Menagh topped the poll in Newtownards in the 2014 council elections and is likely to make a dent in the unionist vote, as well as gaining transfers.

The DUP is pushing hard for four seats with Health Minister Simon Hamilton, Roads Minister Michelle McIlveen and Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell all running in this unionist stronghold. The party has added Harry Harvey to the ballot in the hope that he can take David McNarry's seat. The Rowallane area councillor currently sits on Newry Mourne & Down District Council. Could his Ballynahinch support be enough to see him through?

A party back on the rise, it's likely the Ulster Unionists could steal some thunder – but with only two candidates running they have no chance of adding to the two UUP seats won in 2011. Mike Nesbitt stole what had been a safe seat for the DUP in 2011, after DUP MP Jim Shannon decided to focus on his seat at Westminster. With former mayor of Ards Philip Smyth, a candidate with a long track record at council level, as a running mate, the Ulster Unionists are confident that they can secure two MLAs.

It's likely to be a close contest for David McNarry's seat. The most likely outcome is DUP three, UUP two and Alliance one.


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