Belfast Telegraph

DUP and Alliance in East Belfast showdown

The DUP and Alliance are preparing for another Titanic showdown in the constituency where the world's most famous liner was built.

Battle lines were first drawn up in East Belfast when Alliance's Naomi Long snatched the seat from the supposedly unsinkable DUP leader Peter Robinson in one of Northern Ireland's greatest electoral shocks in 2010.

But the DUP hit back when new face Gavin Robinson retook the seat following an ill-tempered campaign in 2015.

This time around Mr Robinson and Mrs Long have struck a more conciliatory tone as they join six other candidates aiming to triumph in the constituency dominated by the cranes of the famous ship maker Harland and Wolff.

"I met with (Naomi) a couple of times during the talks process in Stormont. Our politics are different but we both have a job to do. Our paths don't cross that often. We get on and do what we can do," Mr Robinson said.

"The Alliance party are getting a vote in East Belfast there's no doubt about that. But there is a full range of candidates and a full range of choice. That can only be a positive thing."

Mrs Long said she believes the reaction to the previous campaign has "chastened others who tried to run a very negative campaign the last time".

She said: "When I see (Gavin Robinson) I say hello and all the rest ... So yes of course we still speak to each other. At the end of the day we are not children in a playground.

"As far as I am concerned I keep it positive, I keep focused on what Alliance has to offer the constituency and I am not too interested on who my opponents are or anything else because I am not there to fight them, I am there to fight for the people of east Belfast."

On the doorsteps the main issue being raised is concern over the collapse of Stormont, both candidates said.

"There is despair that we do not have devolution," Mrs Long said.

"That may seem like a regional problem but actually there is a local sense of despair because it has a huge impact on our local hospitals, it has a huge impact on our local schools and it is having a huge impact on people employed at Stormont and who often live in the constituency."

Mr Robinson said his constituents keep telling him they want Stormont up and running again.

"It is through Stormont that we believe the people of Northern Ireland benefit. Most regrettably we don't have devolved government right now. It is therefore important we have a strong voice in Westminster ... to stand up for Northern Ireland as part of the UK," he said.

The absence of a unionist pact between the DUP and Ulster Unionists in the area could mean a tougher battle for Mr Robinson.

Ulster Unionist candidate Hazel Legge has dismissed suggestions that her party should have stood aside for the DUP.

"Right at the very outset both Gavin Robinson and Jeffrey Donaldson (senior DUP) politician) said they didn't need a pact, they didn't need the UUP to retain the seat. So on that basis I am running as a candidate to bring out the Ulster Unionist vote," she said.

Mrs Legge said that Mrs Long and Mr Robinson will be tough candidates to beat, but refused to be ruled out of the running.

"Every candidate has an equal chance in this election. It is up to the electorate on the day to decide who they consider to be the best candidate for the job so it could be anyone," she said.

"The UUP are offering a stronger better union for the people of Northern Ireland generally."

While Mr Robinson said the "mood music is good" on the doors for him, Mrs Long is the bookies' favourite to win.

However, she said: "Bookmakers don't win elections - it's voters who win elections."

:: The eight candidates in East Belfast are: Independent, Bobby Beck; Conservative, Sheila Bodel; SDLP, Seamas de Faoite; Ulster Unionist Party, Hazel Legge; Alliance Party, Naomi Long; Green Party, Georgina Milne; Sinn Fein, Mairead O'Donnell; Democratic Unionist Party, Gavin Robinson.


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