Election 2015: South Antrim

Shane's Castle in south Antrim
Shane's Castle in south Antrim

While focus has been on the battle for seats such as East Belfast and South Belfast, South Antrim could prove to be one of the upsets of next week’s election.

The DUP’s William McCrea, who has held the seat for a decade (he initially won the seat in a by-election after the death of Clifford Forsythe in 2000, before losing it to the UUP’s David Burnside a year later) has decades of political experience and his party remains the dominant force within unionism.

But in a seat which represents middle Ulster, the Free Presbyterian cleric has never been more than 3,000 votes ahead of the UUP — even at the DUP’s Westminster election zenith when anti-Trimble sentiment propelled him to victory in 2005 — and he now has the narrowest majority of all eight DUP MPs.

This time he faces a strong challenge from Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan in a clear two-horse race, though smaller parties could be crucial in deciding who becomes MP.

A largely prosperous constituency in which there are few sectarian tensions — something which made the deadly 2009 dissident republic attack on Massereene Barracks more shocking — and the lowest unemployment rate in Northern Ireland, today’s South Antrim ought to be good territory for an incumbent.

The constituency - which stretches from Newtownabbey to Antrim, round the shores of Lough Neagh to Randalstown and back round to Ballyclare - contains large rural areas and takes in Belfast International Airport at Aldergrove.

For more than a year now, a major issue has been the proposal to site an incinerator just outside Mallusk, where there is already a massive landfill site, something which has stirred up resentment in an area where hundreds of new homes have been built in recent years.

The Rev McCrea has the benefit of a large team of DUP councillors and MLAs in the constituency. His supporters are targeting Mr Kinahan for supporting same-sex marriage at the Assembly, an issue which the DUP hopes will see traditionalists rally against him.

Mr Kinahan is presenting himself as a decidedly more moderate alternative to a political veteran who is seen as one of the DUP’s most hardline members.

He is also making much of the fact that he lives in Templepatrick, in the heart of the constituency, unlike the Rev McCrea who lives in Magherafelt in his former constituency of Mid Ulster.

The TUV candidate is Richard Cairns, a former Ulster Unionist who has performed well in several televised debates last year and during this campaign.

The Antrim man, part of the younger generation of TUV representatives which Jim Allister is seeking to promote, unsuccessfully stood for council last year, but will be hoping to secure enough votes to mount a serious challenge for an Assembly seat next year.

He’ll need to really improve the TUV vote if that is to be a realistic aspiration — the last MLA to get elected in the 2011 Assembly election was the DUP’s Pam Cameron, who had 8.9 per cent of the vote; the TUV’s Mel Lucas had just 3.4 per cent.

This is the seat of Alliance leader David Ford and the party has a strong core support in the constituency.

But in Westminster elections, that support is squeezed as Alliance members vote tactically — often for the UUP.

In this election, Alliance has been reminding its voters of the DUP-UUP pact in an attempt to dissuade them from voting for Mr Kinahan.

As in 2010, it is not Mr Ford who is standing, but a lower-profile figure, this time Antrim councillor and NHS manager Neil Kelly.

Although this is an overwhelmingly unionist seat Sinn Fein made a breakthrough in South Antrim in the 2007 Assembly election when the party managed to get Mitchel McLaughlin comfortably elected as its first MLA in the constituency. This time it is fielding another senior figure.

Declan Kearney, whose profile has risen in recent years as he has been given senior positions within the party, is now its national chairman and this will be seen as a dry run for him taking over from Mr McLaughlin as MLA next year.

The SDLP is standing a fresh candidate, Antrim businesswoman and councillor Roisin Lynch, again with an eye to next year re-capturing the Assembly seat it lost to the DUP in 2011. The mother of seven children helped re-establish St Comgall’s GAA club in Antrim, and is involved with her local church and Antrim Pastoral Council.

The Conservatives — who last time jointly fought the seat with the UUP — have only recorded negligible support in the constituency in the past.

In the 2007 Assembly election, the party’s polled just 129 votes. This time, the Tory standard-bearer is Alan Dunlop, the owner of a Belfast shipping firm.


CAIRNS, Richard (TUV)

DUNLOP, Alan (Conservatives)

KEARNEY, Declan (Sinn Fein)

KELLY, Neil (Alliance)


LYNCH, Roisin (SDLP)

MCCREA, Robert Thomas William (DUP)



• William McCrea (DUP): 11,536

33.9%, down 4.3% on 2005

• Reg Empey (UUP-Con): 10,353

30.4%, up 1.3%

• Mitchel McLaughlin (Sinn Fein): 4,729

13.9%, up 2.3%

• Michelle Byrne (SDLP): 2,955

8.7% down 3.7%

• Alan Lawther (Alliance): 2,607

7.7%, up 3.2%

• Melwyn Lucas (TUV): 1,829


Electorate: 63,054

Turnout: 54.1%


• William McCrea (DUP): 14,507, 38.2%

• David Burnside (UUP): 11,059, 29.1%

• Noreen McClelland (SDLP): 4,706, 12.4%

• Henry Cushinan (Sinn Fein): 4,407, 11.6%

• David Ford (Alliance): 3,278, 8.6%


• David Burnside (UUP): 16,366, 37.1%

• William McCrea (DUP): 15,355, 34.8%

• Sean McKee (SDLP): 5,336, 12.1%

• Martin Meehan (Sinn Fein): 4,160, 9.4%

• David Ford (Alliance): 1,969, 4.5%

• Norman Boyd (NI Unionist Party): 972, 2.2%