Billy Kennedy's election predictions start today

Seasoned hack Billy Kennedy, who has covered elections for the News Letter since the early 1970s, provides an analysis and seat prediction for Wednesday's Assembly election in nine of the 18 constituences. His verdict on the other nine appears in tomorrow's News Letter.

North Antrim

This traditional DUP stronghold will remain despite the strong reservations of more than half of the party's Ballymena councillors over the suspected direction which the Rev Ian Paisley is taking them.

Seats look secure for the "Big Man", Ian Junior and Mervyn Storey, from the Ballymoney area, but most interest will focus on how the disaffection in DUP ranks has damaged the party vote.

The DUP has four candidates, but Ballymena councillor Deirdre Nelson, a surprise nomination, is unlikely to succeed.

The UUP, with two candidates, will take one, with the quota falling to outgoing MLA the Rev Robert Coulter. The other UUP candidate is local councillor Robert Swann

Ballymena solicitor Lyle Cubitt, on the UKUP platform, should get a sizeable number of first preferences from the anti-Agreement lobby, but perhaps not enough to take a seat. Another independent unionist James Gregg also falls into this category.

On the republican/nationalist side, there are two quotas, with seats expected to go to Ballymoney councillor Daithi McKay (Sinn Fein) and Ballymena councillor Declan O'Loan (SDLP). However, the intervention of dissident republican Paul McGlinchey, brother of INLA terrorist Dominic McGlinchey and an independent on the ballot paper, could prove a real thorn in Sinn Fein's side.

Ballymena Alliance councillor Jayne Dunlop is standing, but her chances of a seat are nil.

Seat prediction: 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 Sinn Fein

2005 General Election: Ian Paisley (DUP) 25,156 (54.8 per cent); Philip McGuigan (Sinn Fein) 7,191 (15.7 per cent); Rodney McCune (UUP) 6,637 (14.5 per cent); Sean Farren (SDLP) 5,585 (12.2 per cent); Jayne Dunlop (Alliance) 1,357 (3 per cent). DUP majority: 18,965.

2003 Assembly Elections: Ian Paisley Snr (DUP) 8,732; Ian Paisley Jnr (DUP) 7,898; Robert Coulter(UUP) 6,385; Philip McGuigan (Sinn Fein) 6,195; Sean Farren (SDLP) 3,648; Mervyn Storey (DUP) 3,605.

East Londonderry

This strongly unionist north-coast constituency has 14 candidates, but it is a pretty safe bet that the seats will go to the main parties - four unionist and two nationalist/republican.

East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell confidently defends his Assembly quotas along with MLA colleague George Robinson, but it is questionable whether the party will return a third candidate in Adrian McQuillan.

The surprise intervention of Limavady DUP Mayor Leslie Cubitt in the colours of Bob McCartney's United Kingdom Unionist Party has created doubts in the minds of some DUP voters over the spectre of the Rev Ian Paisley leading his members into a power-sharing administration with Sinn Fein.

The Ulster Unionists, meanwhile, are banking on experience to get two elected, with outgoing MLAs - Coleraine businessman David McClarty and Portrush shopkeeper Norman Hillis - looking set for a return to Stormont. A third UUP seat here is highly unlikely.

On the nationalist/republican side there are two vote quotas and, again, outgoing MLAs (John Dallat, SDLP, and Francis Brolly, Sinn Fein) are firmly expected to take these. The parties are fielding two candidates each and the Sinn Fein vote could be affected by independent republican Michael McGonigle, unhappy over the policing issue.

The Alliance candidate is former senior policeman and Coleraine councillor Barney Fitzpatrick and the Green Party is also fielding a runner. But neither will break the main party stranglehold.

Seat Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1, SDLP, 1 Sinn Fein

2005 General Election: Gregory Campbell (DUP) 21,225 (42.9 per cent); David McClarty (UUP) 7,498 (21.1 per cent); John Dallat (SDLP) 6,077 (17.1 per cent); Billy Leonard (Sinn Fein) 5,709 (16.1 per cent); Yvonne Boyle (Alliance) 924 (2.6 per cent); Samuel Malcolm (Independent) 71 (0.2 per cent). DUP majority 7,727.

2003 Assembly Election: Greory Campbell (DUP) 4,789; David McClarty (UUP), 4,069, Francis Brolly (Sinn Fein) 4,019; George Robinson (DUP) 3,466, John Dallat (SDLP) 3,190, Norman Hillis 2,292.

Foyle

In this nationalist stronghold, the SDLP and Sinn Fein are contesting neck and neck for which party will end up with three seats and the odds would favour the former receiving most votes.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan consolidated his position with a comfortable 2005 General Election success to take John Hume's old seat and he heads a team of four candidates against the main opposition of three from Sinn Fein. Outgoing MLAs Mary Bradley and Pat Ramsey are joined by Londonderry Mayor Helen Quigley on the SDLP ticket.

For Sinn Fein, another former Mayor Lynn Fleming joins outgoing MLA Raymond McCartney and Martina Anderson, both former republican terrorist prisoners.

The Sinn Fein take on policing is being challenged by Peggy O'Hara, mother of a dead INLA hunger striker, and a significant number of IRA prisoners have lined up to offer her support. She is not expected to take a seat, but she could prevent Sinn Fein from securing a third.

On the unionist side, the DUP's William Hay defends his seat, but there is hardly the quota for a second pro-Union candidate, although Ulster Unionist Peter Munce remains hopeful. Armagh victims' spokesman William Frazer has also thrown his hat into the ring as an independent.

Veteran left-wing election candidate Eamonn McCann is again standing, with no hope of a seat, as are single Alliance and Green party candidates.

Seat prediction: 3 SDLP, 2 Sinn Fein, 1 DUP

2005 General Election: Mark Durkan (SDLP) 21,119 (46.3 per cent); Mitchel McLaughlin (Sinn Fein) 15,162 (33.2 per cent); William Hay (DUP) 6,557 (14.4 per cent); Eamonn McCann (Socialist Environ- mental Alliance) 1,649 (3.6 per cent); Earl Storey (UUP) 1,091 (2.4 per cent); Ben Reel (Vote for Yourself Rainbow Dream Ticket) 31 (0.1 per cent). SDLP majority 6,957.

2003 Assembly Election: Mark Durkan (SDLP) 6,806; William Hay (DUP) 6,101); Mitchel McLaughlin (Sinn Fein) 6,036, Mary Nelis (Sinn Fein) 3,499; Mary Bradley (SDLP) 3,345, Pat Ramsey (SDLP) 2, 826.

West Tyrone

This rambling, rural constituency is largely nationalist, with a significant minority unionist presence and an independent streak, mostly centred in Omagh town.

The 2003 Assembly election produced shockwaves in

the constituency when local medical practitioner Kieran Deeny was elected on the first count, as an independent

seeking to save the Tyrone County Hospital in Omagh. Deeny also polled well in the 2005 general election and is

confidently defending his Assembly quota.

Seeking another term are

the DUP's Thomas Buchanan and the UUP's Derek Hussey and both should get the required quotas. The DUP is also fielding Alan Bresland, while UKUP leader Bob McCartney is pitching for disaffected unionist votes.

Both Buchanan and Hussey, a Castlederg publican, are

seasoned campaigners in West Tyrone and should consolidate their positions.

West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty will head the Sinn Fein team

of three candidates (along with outgoing MLA Barry McElduff

and Claire McGill), but the

dissident republican factor

has also emerged here with

ex-prisoner Joseph O'Neill standing as an independent and he will be expected to significantly pick up votes in places like Strabane and Carrickmore.

For the SDLP, outgoing MLA Eugene McMenamin is the front-runner, supported on the party ticket by Josephine Deenan. There is a single SDLP seat.

Seat prediction: 2 Sinn Fein, 1 DUP, 1 UUP, 1, SDLP, 1 Independent.

2005 General Election: Pat Doherty (Sinn Fein) 16,910 (38.9 per cent); Kieran Deeny (Indepedent) 11,905 (27.4 per cent); Thomas Buchanan (DUP) 7,742 (17.8 per cent); Eugene McMenamin (SDLP) 3,949 (9.1 per cent); Derek Hussey (UUP) 2,981 (6.9 per cent). Sinn Fein majority 5,005.

2003 Assembly Election: Kieran Deeny (Independent) 6,158 first preference votes; Pat Doherty (Sinn Fein) 6,019; Barry McElduff (Sinn Fein) 5,642; Thomas Buchanan (DUP) 4739; Derek Hussey (UUP) 3,722; Eugene Menamin (SDLP) 3,465.

Fermanagh-South Tyrone

Thirteen candidates are standing in this most westerly constituency where voter turn-out is traditionally among the highest in the United Kingdom.

In the last Assembly election, the Ulster Unionist took two seats, but in a post-poll move Arlene Foster joined the DUP much to the chagrin of her former party colleagues.

Arlene is defending her seat along with DUP chairman and Dungannon councillor Maurice Morrow and both should get back comfortably.

For the UUP, Ballimallard farmer Tom Elliott is a strong candidate and will retain his seat, but there may not be enough surplus votes to get his party colleague Kenneth Donaldson elected. UKUP leader Bob McCartney is also standing here, with little chance of success.

In republican ranks, there is sharp division over the policing issue, but Fermanagh-South Tyrone Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew is sure of a seat. Her colleague Michael McHugh could suffer from the presence of two dissident hardline republicans - Gerry McGeough and Michael McManus, both standing as independents.

SDLP's Tommy Gallagher is the party's front-runner to retain his seat and he is joined by long-serving Dungannon councillor Vincent Currie, a brother of 1974 power-sharing minister Austin Currie. But two SDLP seats may be out of reach.

Alliance has a candidate, but absolutely no hope of a seat in what will once again be a polarised Orange and Green contest.

The final sixth seat

could come down to a

cliff-hanger between Sinn Fein, one of the diss-

ident republicans and the SDLP.

Seat prediction: 2 DUP, 2 Sinn Fein, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP.

2005 General Election: Michelle Gildernew (Sinn Fein) 18, 638 (38.2 per cent); Arlene Foster (DUP) 14,056 (28.8 per cent); Tom Elliott (UUP) 8,869 (18.2 per cent); Tommy Gallagher 7,230 (14.8 per cent). Sinn Fein majority 4,582.

2003 Assembly Election: Michelle Gildernew (Sinn Fein) 6,489 first preference votes; Tom Ellliott (UUP) 6.181; Maurice Morrow (DUP) 5,536 Tom O'Reilly (Sinn Fein) 5,019; Arlene Foster (UUP) 4,938; Tommy Gallagher (SDLP) 4,735.

Mid-Ulster

Community polarisation in sprawling rural Mid-Ulster heightens at election time and seat predictions are more easy to analyse than in constituencies in the east of the Province.

The Sinn Fein writ of three Assembly seats in Mid-Ulster is being challenged over the policing issue by a former IRA prisioner Brendan Mc- Laughlin, but Martin McGuinness and his two colleagues Francis Molloy and Michelle O'Neill will almost certainly be returned, albeit with a reduced vote.

Some voters in the republican strongholds of this constituency, unhappy about being asked to back the police, may stay away from the polling booths in significant numbers.

Mid-Ulster is two-thirds nationalist/one-third unionist and there are two unionist seats, which should go to Ian McCrea (DUP), son of the South Antrim MP the Rev William, and East Tyrone farmer Billy Armstrong (UUP).

However, the intervention of former Cookstown DUP councillor Walter Millar, on a UKUP anti-Agreement ticket, has made this a more difficult assignment for the DUP and a McCrea election may have to wait until the later counts. The DUP is fielding a second candidate in Elizabeth Forde.

For the SDLP, Patsy McGlone and Kathleen Lagan are standing and the party is certain to take one seat, most probably McGlone.

Remaining candidates of the dozen in the field are trade unionist Harry Hutchinson and Alliance's Margaret Marshall.

Seat prediction: 3 Sinn Fein, 1 DUP, 1, UUP, 1 SDLP

2005 General Election: Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein) 21,641 (47.6 per cent); Ian McCrea (DUP) 10,665 (23.5 per cent); Patsy McGlone (SDLP) 7,922 (17.4 per cent); Billy Armstrong (UUP) 4,853 (10.7 per cent); Francis Donnelly 345 (0.8 per cent). Sinn Fein majority 10,976.

2003 Assembly Election: William McCrea (DUP) 8,211; Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein) 8,128; Geraldine Dougan (Sinn Fein) 5,827; Francis Molloy (Sinn Fein) 5,255; Billy Armstrrong (UUP) 4,323; Patsy McGlone (SDLP) 4,295.

South Down

South Down has been an SDLP stronghold for the past 30 years and the party is again pitching strongly to regain the three-seat position it held prior to the 2003 Assembly election.

The Edward McGrady factor in the Mourne and East Down territory is still relevant among nationalist voters and the Westminster MP's influence should help the party to certainly retain its two seats and pitch for a third.

Outgoing SDLP MLAs P. J. Bradley and Margaret Ritchie should get back, but the party's third candidate – Newry and Mourne Mayor Michael Carr is unlikely to relegate Sinn Fein to a single seat.

Sinn Fein had two MLAs in the last Assembly – Catriona Ruane and Willie Carr and this pair are not expected to lose.

The Sinn Fein vote will be challenged by Kilkeel republican veteran Martin Cunningham, but his intervention will not affect the final outcome.

No fewer than six pro-Union candidates are in the field, with DUP stalwart Jim Wells certain to get back. The contest for the other unionist seat in the constituency should favour the UUP candidate, relative newcomer John McCallister, from Rathfriland.

But others with Assembly ambitions are William Burns (DUP), Henry Reilly (United Kingdom Independence Party), Nelson Wharton (United Kingdom Unionist Party) and ex-UUP man Peter Bowles (Conservative). The unionist transfers will determine who wins this seat.

Alliance, Labour and the Green Party are fielding single candidates, without a real hope of success. South Down is two-thirds nationalist, one-third unionist, where fringe parties are not in the ascendency.

Seat Prediction: 2 SDLP, 2 Sinn Fein, 1 DUP, 1 UUP.

2005 General Election: Edward McGrady (SDLP) 21,557 (44.7 per cent); Catriona Ruane (Sinn Fein) 12,417 (25.8 per cent); Jim Wells (DUP) 8,815 (18.3 per cent); Dermot Nesbitt (UUP) 4,775 (9.9 per cent); Julian Crozier (Alliance) 613 (1.3 per cent). SDLP majority 9,140.

2003 Assembly Election: Jim Wells (DUP) 6,789; Dermot Nesbitt (UUP) 5,368; P. J. Bradley (SDLP) 5,337; Catriona Ruane (Sinn Fein) 5,118; Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) 4,261; Willie Clarke (Sinn Fein) 4,083.

Newry-Armagh

This election contest in this border constituency may produce several results that will upset the expectations of both the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Twelve candidates are vying for the six seats in a region which stretches from Newry to Loughgall and Keady through Armagh city to Tandragee and there are intriguing contests in both the republican/nationalist and unionist communities.

Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy and former DUP MLA Paul Berry are confidently defending their seats, facing opposition for the pro-Union vote from official DUP candidate and Armagh Mayor William Irwin and victims' campaigner William Frazer.

Whatever Paul Berry's fall-out with his party, the Tandragee man remains a highly popular figure with many at grassroots level in the constituency and it will no surprise if he is re-elected in a close-run affair over his former DUP colleague.

UUP deputy leader Danny Kennedy has a solid quota of votes and he should again get a seat.

On the republican/nationalist side, Sinn Fein will be stretched to win the three seats they took in the 2003 election, largely because of the intervention of ex-member and Newry activist Davy Hyland. Disaffected over the policing decision, Hyland is poised to pick up many of the 5,779 votes he received four years ago.

Newry-Armagh MP Conor Murphy is sure of a seat, with one of his colleagues Mickey Brady or Cathal Boylan, but the SDLP is challenging strongly for two seats, with outgoing MLA Dominic Bradley and relative newcomer Sharon Haughey the candidates.

On the fringes, there is Green Party candidate Arthur Morgan and Alliance's Maire Hendron.

Seat prediction: 2 Sinn Fein, 2 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 Independent Unionist

2005 General Election: Conor Murphy (Sinn Fein) 20,965 (41.4 per cent); Dominic Bradley (SDLP) 12,770 (25.2 per cent); Paul Berry (DUP) 9,311 (18.4 per cent); Danny Kennedy (UUP) 7,025 (13.9 per cent); Gerry Markey (Independent) 625 (1.2 per cent). Sinn Fein majority - 8,195.

2003 Assembly Election: Paul Berry (DUP) 81,25; Conor Murphy 7,595; Danny Kennedy (UUP) 7,347; Davy Hyland (Sinn Fein) 5,779; Patricia O'Rawe (Sinn Fein) 5,478; Dominic Bradley (SDLP) 4,111.

Upper Bann

This political cockpit centred on Portadown, Lurgan and Banbridge involves a dogged contest between the two main unionist parties for four of the six seats.

Both the DUP and UUP are defending two seats and this posiition is expected to remain after Wednesday's poll, although unrest among traditional unionists over the ramifications of the St Andrews Agreement will affect the size of the DUP vote in particular.

MP David Simpson, who wrested the Upper Bann parliamentary seat from UUP leader David Trimble in 2005, is joined on the DUP ticket by another outgoing MLA Stephen Moutrey and Banbridge councillor John McCrum.

For the UUP, Lurgan-based Samuel Gardiner is seeking another term at Stormont, along with ex-MLA and farmer George Savage and the third candidate, Portadown councillor Arnold Hatch.

The DUP mandate is being strongly challenged by David Calvert, a Craigavon DUP councillor for many years and one who believes that his former party is about to do a somersault and enter a power-sharing administration with Sinn Fein. He is backed by disaffected DUP councillor Mark Russell and Armagh Orange County Grand Master Denis Watson.

A second anti-Agreement independent unionist Suzanne Peebles is standing, with no hope of success.

There are two definite nationalist quotas in Upper Bann and these are almost certain to be retained by John O'Dowd (Sinn Fein) and Dolores Kelly (SDLP). Both parties field two candidates and Sinn Fein face competition from independent republican Barry Toman.

There are also Conservative, Alliance and Green party candidates, all very much on the periphery.

Seat Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 Sinn Fein

2005 General Election: David Simpson (DUP), 16,679 (37.6 per cent); David Trimble (UUP) 11,281 (25.5 per cent); John O'Dowd (Sinn Fein) 9,305 (21 per cent); Dolores Kelly (SDLP) 5,747 (13 per cent); Alan Castles (Alliance) 955 (2.2 per cent); Tom French (Workers Party) 355 (0.8 per cent). DUP majority 5,398.

2003 Assembly Election: David Trimble (UUP) 9,158; David Simpson (DUP) 5,933; John O'Dowd (Sinn Fein) 5.524; Stephen Moutrey (DUP) 4,697; Dolores Kelly (SDLP) 3,661; Samuel Gardiner (UUP) 2,359.