Election 2022: Changing times in East Belfast

News Letter reporter GRAEME COUSINS looks at the key battles on his home patch

The other morning when we were off for Easter my children were bored and in need of entertainment.

There’s so much to do right on our doorstep in east Belfast – we could cycle down the greenway to C S Lewis Square, go shopping at Forestside or Connswater, grab a bite to eat in Ballyhackamore or Belmont Road, check out the latest goings on at the Banana Block, take the dog for a walk up Cregagh Glen or Orangefield Park, go to one of a number of all-singing, all-dancing play parks.

In the end the kids refused to get out of their pyjamas so we got a Starbucks drive thru, came home and watched ‘Gravity Falls’ reruns on Disney+. We can be an incredibly lazy bunch when we put our minds to it.

The result of the changing face of east Belfast is that the area is very much a desirable place to live and work, particularly for young families, and one which is, with some small exceptions aside, a shared space.

Recent years have seen more and more people from Catholic backgrounds setting up home in an area that once upon a time would have been dominated by Protestants.

The integration was perfectly demonstrated during lockdown when Gilnahirk became the home to newly formed East Belfast GAA club.

And who would have dreamed that Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson would ever set foot in Tullycarnet Library – an event which happened in August 2019.

Add to that the multitude of communities from around the world who have made the east their home, and it ads up to a diverse range of people who feel at home in the east of the city.

The upshot of these changes is that east Belfast is no longer a unionist stronghold, with more liberal politics gaining traction as each election ticks by.

Sinn Fein or SDLP taking a seat may be beyond those parties at the moment but Alliance are very much on an even footing with the DUP here.

This has been demonstrated by the fact that Alliance’s Naomi Long and DUP’s Gavin Robinson have had a couple of ding-dong battles during parliamentary elections, winning one apiece.

Before the break up of the Stormont Assembly, the DUP held two seats in East Belfast, Alliance also had two, while the UUP held the final seat.

It is incredibly likely that Joanne Bunting (DUP) and Alliance leader Long will retain their seats, and their new running partners – David Brooks (DUP) and Peter McReynolds (All) – are also favourites to take a second seat for their respective parties.

McReynolds, who the party are asking voters in East Belfast to give first preference to over Long, has big shoes to fill after Chris Lyttle announced he was stepping down, having been an MLA in the area since 2010.

Brooks is aiming to secure the seat held since 2003 by Robin Newton, who was deselected by his party for this election.

Ulster Unionist Andy Allen is well known in these parts and he will hope his hard work as an Assembly member will get him back to Stormont, where he has been an MLA since 2015.

But he faces stiff competition, not least from his own running mate, Lauren Kerr, who is hoping to become the first openly lesbian MLA in East Belfast.

The Green Party will view East Belfast as an area where it could make gains and the TUV could also cash in on the sizeable proportion of the population who would be anti-protocol, a cause which Jim Allister’s party has led on.

A barometer for how much east Belfast has changed will be the performance of SDLP candidate Charlotte Carson – a teacher who risked her life to act as a human shield to prevent Israeli soldiers shooting civilians and demolishing Palestinian homes.

The PUP, meanwhile, has not held a seat in East Belfast since 2010, when Dawn Purvis left the party.

Full list of candidates:

Andy Allen (UUP)

Karl Bennett (PUP)

David Brooks (DUP)

Joanne Bunting (DUP)

Charlotte Carson (SDLP)

Hannah Kenny (PBP)

Lauren Kerr (UUP)

Naomi Long (AP)

Eoin MacNeill (WP)

Peter McReynolds (AP)

Mairead O’Donnell (SF)

John Ross (TUV)

Brian Smyth (Green)

Outgoing MLAs:

Naomi Long (AP)

Chris Lyttle (AP)

Andy Allen (UUP)

Joanne Bunting (DUP)

Robin Newton (DUP)

March 2017 Stormont election result

Naomi Long Alliance 7,610 18.64% ELECTED

Chris Lyttle Alliance 7,268 12.54% ELECTED

Andy Allen UUP 7,257 13.07% ELECTED

Joanne Bunting DUP 6,759 14.88% ELECTED

Robin Newton DUP 5,541 11.72% ELECTED

David Douglas DUP 5,410 10.98%

John Kyle PUP 3,148 6.59%

Georgina Milne Green 2,080 3.59%

Mairéad O’Donnell SF 1,235 2.91%

Andrew Girvin TUV 958 2.27%

Courtney Robinson Lab Alt 467 1.10%

Sheila Bodel NI Con 280 0.68%

Séamas de Faoite SDLP 260 0.62%

Jordy McKeag Ind 85 0.21%

December 2019 general election result

Gavin Robinson DUP 23,917 55.8 ELECTED

Naomi Long All 15,443 36.0

Hazel Legge UUP 1,408 3.3

Mairéad O’Donnell SF 894 2.1

Georgina Milne Green (NI) 561 1.3

Sheila Bodel NI Con 446 1.0

Séamas de Faoite SDLP 167 0.4

Bobby Beck Ind 54 0.1