12 July-August 2024
ast Belfast is always the most
significant contest in the North in
the UKs General Election. Last
time, DUP leader Gavin Robinson
had a majority of 1,800 over Naomi
Long of Alliance.
Before the election, the DUP has hardened
its stance on the Protocol. Robinson now says
there is a Border in the Irish Sea. He thus
repudiates the deal which his predecessor,
Jeffrey Donaldson, negotiated which
downplayed opposition to the Protocol in the
Unionist community.
Generally, though, the DUP leadership has
accepted that more hard-line voters are lost.
Rather, it is selling the benefits of the Executive.
The election slogan is Making NI Work. In
the DUP’s election broadcast Robinson says:
“Over the last ten years weve been involved in
delivering tangible benefits for Northern
Ireland”. He talks of “working together” to
achieve more.
The DUP’s historical speciality is reading the
mood of the Protestant community. Perhaps
justifying this approach, here is no sign of the
more hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV)
making a breakthrough.
Significantly, there has been no Unionist
backlash at cross-community gestures from its
ministers. Deputy First Minister Emma Little
Pengelly was filmed trying her hand at camogie
with Michelle ONeill. Admittedly, Little
Pengelly is a DUP pragmatist. More surprising
was Education Minister and DUP traditionalist
Paul Givan attending the opening of a
Gaelscoil. He spoke some bravura words in
Irish, then proceeded to engage in some Irish
Certainly, the DUP will throw resources into
holding East Belfast. This will inevitably lower
its energy in other constituencies. That is very
good news for Sinn Féins John Finucane in
North Belfast, the SDLPs Clare Hanna in South
Belfast and Mid-Down, and Alliances Stephen
Farry in North Down.
Despite that, at this stage Long is seen as
favourite in East Belfast though defeat for
Robinson would throw the DUP into turmoil.
That turmoil could even lead to the oft-heralded
split between the pragmatists and
Outside of East Belfast, there is talk of DUP
seats being under threat in Lagan Valley and
South Antrim. Alliances Lagan Valley
candidate Sorcha Eastwood has a good media
profile. The rape charges against former leader
Donaldson, who did not resign his seat but will
not be running in the election (though he will
get a £30,000 “winding-up payment”), have
not helped the DUP. However, last time out
Sorcha Eastwood was 6,500 votes behind him.
Making that deficit up is probably unrealistic.
Former Health Minister Robin Swann of the
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) is closer to the DUP
in South Antrim. The gap there is 2,600.
However, Swann is from the other end of Co
Antrim. The UUP had a bad election launch,
and seems uncertain of its identity.
Another tight contest is Foyle. The SDLP
must hold it to survive.
Last time Colm Eastwood won this from Sinn
No change in
seat numbers
DUP a bit harder on the
Protocol; Sinn Féin and
Alliance becoming catch-all
anti-Unionist front
By Anton McCabe
in with a 17,000 majority. He benefited from
a comprehensive backlash against a
catastrophic Sinn Féin MP, Elisha McCallion.
His voters stretched from dissident
Republicans to DUPers. Afterwards, Sinn Féin
purged its local organisation. In the 2022
Assembly elections they were 900 votes ahead
of the SDLP. However, the 17,000 votes for
other parties lean more to the SDLP. Notably,
Colm Eastwood has been very strong on the
issue of Gaza, Sinn Féin perceived as less so.
The SDLP will throw its resources at Foyle
aiming to subvert Sinn Féin attempts to
overturn the SDLP majority. The SDLPs other
seat, South Belfast and Mid-Down, is safe.
Calling it the Norths Dublin Four is not entirely
unfair. While Colm Eastwood is strongly
Nationalist, Hanna is very pale green. Her
pro-EU socially-liberal stance pulls non-
Nationalist votes. However, overall the SDLP is
in serious decline.
As to Sinn Féin, the candidates are now of
the Post-IRA generation. The most prominent
new recruit is Pat Cullen, former leader of the
Royal College of Nursing. She will win
Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Sinn in has withdrawn from four
constituencies. That helps Hanna. In the other
three, it withdrew in favour of Alliance. While
the votes involved are tiny, it represents an
evolution for Sinn Féin and Alliance into quasi-
catch-all anti-Unionist front.
Beyond that, some local detail is important.
The battle for third place in Fermanagh and
South Tyrone will be telling. Alliance seems set
to come ahead of the SDLP in a Nationalist
Then, after July 4, the Executive will face a
Starmer Government maintaining the
Conservatives spending limits.
DUP: 8 (currently 8); Sinn Féin: 7 (currently
7); SDLP: 2 (currently 2); Alliance: 1 (currently
1); UUP 0 (currently 0).


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