Constituency profile: East Belfast
What’s the Story? The biggest upset of the general election came when Peter Robinson, the DUP leader who had held seat since 1979, lost out to Naomi Long of Alliance.
Boundary changes and the Alliance surge in last year’s Westminster election have made this one of the most interesting contests around. It is just about the most unionist constituency in Northern Ireland and has become slightly more so after five wards from the DUP heartland of Castlereagh were added into the constituency. No nationalists are likely to be returned, and, without that threat, the competition within unionism and with Alliance is fierce.
Alliance’s vote doubled to 37% since the 2007 Assembly election when it took one seat. On the basis of the Westminster result it would have three quotas but Long’s vote is bound to splinter a bit so it is playing safe by running two candidates, Chris Lyttle who was co-opted to the Assembly to replace Ms Long when she took the Westminster seat and Judith Cochrane. On the figures both have a good chance of getting elected, provided but protest votes are volatile. The question is who will lose out if Alliance do make a gain.
The DUP, which previously held three seats is fighting back. Mr Robinson is sure to be elected. Sammy Douglas, a community and interface worker, is a newcomer who brings inner city street cred to a ticket which also includes veteran MLA Robin Newton. The DUP are bookies favourite to win all three, but, if the smaller unionist parties like the TUV and PUP drain enough votes, they could lose one on a bad day.
The DUP are hoping Mr Douglas will knock out Dawn Purvis who was elected in 2007 for the PUP. She is now defending her seat as an independent against her former party’s Brian Ervine. She has strong support amongst women and in working class areas. She should do well in transfers from smaller parties, including nationalists. However the chances are she will be battling it out with Michael Copeland, a sitting UUP MLA for the last seat.
It is all to play for in what used to be a safe constituency. Two, probably three, DUP and two Alliance look likely but, with 17 runners in the field, the last seat or two are up for grabs. Stratagem, the political consultancy, reckon Dawn Purvis has an uphill struggle and so do the bookies who are offering short odds on 3 DUP, 2 Alliance and 1 UUP. But then this constituency surprised everyone last year.
OUTGOING ASSEMBLY MEMBERS (asterix denotes they are running again)
*Peter Robinson MP (DUP) 5635 (19.0%)
*Naomi Long (Alliance) 5583 (18.8%)
*[Sir] Reg Empey (UUP) 4139 (14.0%)
Wallace [Lord] Browne (DUP) 3185 (10.7%)
+Dawn Purvis (PUP) 3045 (10.3%)
*Robin Newton (DUP) 2335 (7.9%)
2010 Share of the vote compared to 2007
Alliance 37.2%, +26.1%)
DUP 32.8%, -19.6%
UUP 21.2%, -9.7%)
Sinn Féin 2.4%, unchanged
SDLP 1.1%, -1.0%
PUP didn’t run, 10.3%