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Super Six Dictators

Controversial political commentator Dr John Coulter maintains the outcome of the North's so-called Super Six constituencies could well dictate the final shape of the new Assembly following the 7 March poll


Dr John Coulter • 23 February 2007

The election battle in the North's Super Six constituencies will not just be a strong pointer as to the make-up of the new Assembly, but also if a power-sharing Executive between Unionists and Republicans is definitely on the cards for late March.

While more than 250 candidates are contesting 108 seats across the North's 18 constituencies, it will be the outcome of 36 seats in three major Unionist areas and three nationalist areas which will be the first hints if the Executive can be formed by the 26 March deadline.

The Unionist battlegrounds are; North Antrim, North Down and East Belfast, while the main nationalist fights are in Newry and Armagh, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and Foyle.

In North Antrim, Paisley Senior and Junior's stomping ground, the key question is how badly the DUP vote – and its three seats - will be affected by two dissident Unionist runners.

A poor showing for Paisley Junior could well be the tonic for Kells-based DUP MEP Jim Allister to consider seeking the North Antrim Westminster nomination once Paisley Senior retires, given the Big Man of Northern politics is almost aged 81.

The DUP is defending 32 seats, but if it returns 28 or less because of defections to dissident Unionist candidates or voter apathy, the Paisley camp could face a neck-and-neck battle with SF to remain the number one Northern party.

This assumes SF can comfortably fend off the electoral threat posed by leading dissident republican candidates running in traditional Provo heartlands.

If there is to be a UUP revival in fortunes after the 2005 General Election hammering, it will come, too, in North Antrim. In the 2003 Stormont poll, the UUP lost a relatively safe seat to SF.

The UUP is hoping with splits in the Paisley camp and republican community, it can win a seat back.

Sinn Fein caused a major upset in the Paisleyite stronghold by winning its first Assembly seat in 2003, but faces a strong challenge from dissident republican Paul McGlinchey, brother of the former INLA boss Dominic.

The three-way nationalist vote split will be seen at its most intense in the predominantly Catholic constituency of Foyle between the dominant SDLP, SF and another high profile dissident republican Peggy O'Hara, mother of INLA hunger striker Patsy O'Hara.

If SF is to hold its lead over the SDLP, it must make significant inroads to the moderate, middle class Catholic vote in Foyle.

However, if the SDLP is to avoid an electoral meltdown, it must hold its ground in Foyle, the home turf of party boss Mark Durkan. Any loss of SDLP seats in Derry could well place Durkan's future leadership under an intense spotlight.

Another area where dissident republicans could cause problems for SF is in Newry and Armagh where SF wants to get three seats. However, a split nationalist vote will not benefit the SDLP, but could allow Unionists to win a seat.

In this respect, all eyes will be on former DUP golden boy Paul Berry, who left the party amid allegations concerning his personal life, and is now running as an independent.

The notion of a Unionist revival because of a split republican vote will be at its sharpest in the border area of Fermanagh/ South Tyrone, once the bastion of the UUP.

With more high profile dissident republicans challenging SF for the nationalist vote, the Unionist family could pick up an additional seat – but will it be the Paisley camp or the UUP?

This constituency poses the key query in areas where the Unionist family has a chance to play on republican infighting as to what brand of Unionism border Protestants will plump for.

While 2003 was the Assembly election which largely saw the independent and fringe parties wiped out in favour of mainstream Unionism and Republicanism, the main parties could find a hard fight against the number of independents and smaller parties in North Down.

The constituency has three independent candidates, including security journalist Brian Rowan. North Down also represents the best chance for the British Tories to grab a seat with former UUP Junior Minister James Leslie their runner.

It is also the home turf of leading dissident Unionist and barrister Bob McCartney, who is standing in six constituencies across the North under the United Kingdom Unionist banner.

With Alliance 'big gun' and former Assembly Speaker Eileen Bell retired, North Down could also herald the first major break through of the Green Party into Northern politics.

But a real cockpit battle within Unionism will be fought in the largely Protestant constituency of East Belfast and the latest head-to-head between DUP deputy boss and leading pro-deal champion Peter Robinson, and UUP supremo Reg Empey.

East Belfast will also be a test if the Progressive Unionists, the political spokespeople for the banned loyalist terror gangs, the UVF and Red Hand Commando, can hold the seat of former party boss David Ervine, who died suddenly in January.

New PUP supremo Dawn Purvis will have a tough fight – even with a sympathy vote – to hold onto the party's sole Assembly seat.

The key to the formation of an Executive may well be decided by the level of defections from the DUP and SF to the rival dissident camps.










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Index: Current Articles

6 March 2007

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St Bore's Day
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Coulter's Pre-Election Report
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The Curse of the Caudillo Complex
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Super Six Dictator
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Anyone Up for a Serious Alternative?
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The View from Outside
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Boom to Bust?
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Tyre Trees
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Fred A. Wilcox

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No Clean Hands
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