ELECTION 2022: Strangford may look calm on surface but there’s a lot going on underneath

In our latest constituency profile, GRAEME COUSINS looks at political undercurrents in Strangford

By Graeme Cousins
Friday, 22nd April 2022, 8:00 am
Updated Friday, 22nd April 2022, 11:39 am
Two of the five seats in Strangford could go down to the wire
Two of the five seats in Strangford could go down to the wire

Strangford is a calm and picturesque place to live. The election race in the constituency also has a fairly leisurely look to it, but if you delve a little deeper there are some incredibly interesting sub plots taking place.

The strength of the Alliance Party in Strangford isn’t a new phenomenon.

Kellie Armstrong has held her seat since 2016 and before her Kieran McCarthy had a place at the Assembly since the formation of the Strangford electoral district in 1996.

However, what is interesting is that Alliance are running a second candidate for the first time in the area. Could a second Alliance candidate – Nick Mathison – cause a shake up at the polls?

At the last election less than 100 total votes separated Armstrong, who was first past the post, and fourth-placed Mike Nesbitt of the UUP.

The DUP has held as many as four seats (when there were six seats in the constituency), and previously had three in the shape of Simon Hamilton, Michelle McIlveen and Peter Weir.

With Hamilton having left politics, McIlveen is the DUP’s nailed-on candidate. Weir should also regain his seat with less fuss than last time out, but whether or not Harry Harvey, who was co-opted to Stormont to take Hamilton’s vacant seat, can retain a third seat for his party remains to be seen.

The UUP will be counting on Mike Nesbitt regaining his seat and would be in dreamland if Philip Smith could land the party a second MLA in the area.

Smith, who polled poorly at the last election, plans to speak at an anti-protocol rally in Saintfield next Friday.

He does not believe his participation to be at odds with party leader Doug Beattie who announced last month that he would no longer be attending public rallies against the protocol.

He said this week: “The bottom line here is that this meeting gives me an opportunity to engage with constituents. What I will be telling them is that the UUP have been against the protocol from day one.

“The UUP were the first to highlight the dangers of it but where we differ from other unionist parties is we don’t believe you should abandon good government as a bargaining chip to get rid of the protocol.”

Should Armstrong, McIlveen, Nesbitt and Weir take the first four seats as predicted by many, the last seat could prove to be closely fought once again.

Last time out in 2017 the DUP’s Weir was given a close run by popular SDLP man Joe Boyle with UUP’s Smith finishing the poll a good way back in seventh spot.

Both Weir and Smith will do battle again but Boyle isn’t running, instead happy to stick with his position as councillor on Ards and North Down Borough Council where he is the sole nationalist representative.

The SDLP will now be hoping Conor Houston can generate enough new votes to get him over the line and grab the seat that had just eluded Boyle on five successive Assembly elections.

If the TUV are to make gains this election, then Strangford could be the place to do it. Stephen Cooper polled much better than other TUV candidates across the Province last time out in 2017 and will be hoping his party’s rise will be reflected at polling stations.

Transferred votes from Armstrong and McIlveen are sure to play a big role in deciding this complex battleground.

Discussing the focus of people in the area during the election campaign, MP for Strangford Jim Shannon said: “The Northern Ireland Protocol is a major issue on the doors as you’d expect, people are also talking about who is going to be first minister, a potential border poll, and the possibility of Sinn Fein being in control in both north and south.”

The DUP MP believed that Alliance’s Integrated Education Bill and the UUP’s failure to support a petition of concern to block it would lose both parties votes.

Forecasting the poll, he said: “My prediction is that Michele McIlveen will top the poll, Kellie Armstrong will be second, Peter Weir will be number three. The final two seats are between us, maybe the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists and Alliance.”

OUTGOING MLAs

Kellie Armstrong (All)

Harry Harvey (DUP)

Michelle McIlveen (DUP)

Mike Nesbitt (UUP)

Peter Weir (DUP)

CANDIDATES

Kellie Armstrong (All)

Stephen Cooper (TUV)

Harry Harvey (DUP)

Conor Houston (SDLP)

Ben King (Ind U)

Maurice Macartney (Green NI)

Nick Mathison (All)

Róisé McGivern (SF)

Michelle McIlveen (DUP)

Mike Nesbitt (UUP)

Philip Smith (UUP)

Peter Weir (DUP)

2019 GENERAL ELECTION

CANDIDATE | PARTY | 1st PREF VOTES | SHARE

Jim Shannon DUP 17,705 47.2% ELECTED

Kellie Armstrong All 10,634 28.4%

Philip Smith UUP 4,023 10.7%

Joe Boyle SDLP 1,994 5.3%

Grant Abraham NI Con 1,476 3.9%

Maurice Macartney Green 790 2.1%

Ryan Carlin SF 555 1.5%

Robert Stephenson UKIP 308 0.8%

2017 ASSEMBLY ELECTION

CANDIDATE | PARTY | 1st PREF VOTES | SHARE

Simon Hamilton DUP 6,221 16.04% ELECTED

Kellie Armstrong All 5,813 14.99% ELECTED

Michelle McIlveen DUP 5,728 14.77% ELECTED

Mike Nesbitt UUP 5,323 13.72% ELECTED

Peter Weir DUP 3,543 9.13% ELECTED

Joe Boyle SDLP 3,045 7.85%

Philip Smith UUP 2,453 6.32%

Jimmy Menagh Ind 1,627 4.19%

Jonathan Bell Ind 1,479 3.81%

Stephen Cooper TUV 1,330 3.43%

Dermot Kennedy SF 1,110 2.86%

Ricky Bamford Green 918 2.37%

Scott Benton NI Con 195 0.5%