Contrasting fortunes for Sinn Féin and DUP ahead of Westminster election

Contrasting fortunes for Sinn Féin and DUP ahead of Westminster election

The North’s two main parties go into the UK general election with starkly contrasting fortunes.

For Sinn Fein, the poll represents a chance to solidify its newly assumed status as the region’s largest party, after displacing the DUP in first place in both Assembly and local government elections in the last two years.

Michelle O’Neill became Northern Ireland’s first nationalist First Minister in February when devolution returned to Stormont after a two-year hiatus and the party’s vice-chairman hopes to build on that momentum in July’s election.

If Sinn Féin enters the campaign with confidence, there will be nervousness within the DUP hierarchy as to how unionist voters will react to their decision to abandon the power-sharing boycott at Stormont and to the recent political earthquake that caused the resignation of the former leader Jeffrey Donaldson. in March, after he was accused of a series of historic sexual offences, charges he denies.

The DUP had blocked Stormont for two years in protest at post-Brexit trade deals that have created economic barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Donaldson led the party back to Stormont earlier this year after agreeing to a government deal pledging to reduce Brexit bureaucracy in the Irish Sea trade.

While opinion polls have shown a majority of DUP supporters backed the move, a sizeable minority of members believe the deal was oversold and the party gave up its influence with little to show.

Senior party figures such as Nigel Dodds and East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson have been openly critical of the deal, while external opponents within the wider unionist/loyal community have been equally vocal.

One of the party’s most vocal detractors, the Traditional Unionist Voice, is unlikely to win any seats in the election, but could still cause damage if disaffected DUP voters switch allegiances in protest at the current existence of the so-called border of the Irish Sea. .

Another dynamic is provided by Reform UK’s recent electoral linkage with the TUV.

Another trend that has been marked in elections in the North in recent years is the growth of the intermediate vote that apparently avoids the traditional division between orange and green.

This has manifested itself in an increase in the support enjoyed by the inter-community Alliance Party.

He will hope to defend his North Down seat and will be on the lookout for potential DUP gains in places such as Lagan Valley, where the criminal case against Donaldson will no doubt be a factor, and in east Belfast, the constituency of the man who has succeeded Donaldson as leader, Gavin Robinson.

It was confirmed Wednesday that Donaldson will not seek re-election.

The Ulster Unionist Party, once a preeminent force in Northern Ireland politics, goes into the election with no seats to defend.

Party leader Doug Beattie hopes to secure a foothold in Westminster, with South Antrim a key target for the electorate.

In that contest, UUP Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann, a politician widely praised during the Covid pandemic, will move from his North Antrim hinterland in a bid to unseat the DUP’s Paul Girvan.

The SDLP, whose recent electoral troubles have seen it fall below the threshold to qualify for a place on Stormont’s executive, hopes to spark a long-awaited resurgence by holding on to its two Westminster seats, currently held by party leader Colum Eastwood and Claire Hannah.