Election 2022: Unionists face off against Alliance and each other as they seek to deny SF a win in East Antrim

ADAM KULA on the looming showdown in East Antrim on May 5:
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The unionist stronghold of East Antrim was once dominated by DUP MLAs.

From 2003 up to 2017, when there were six seats in the constituency, the DUP took three of them.

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Today it is evenly split between Jeffrey Donaldson’s party and the UUP, with Alliance holding the other spot.

The Port of LarneThe Port of Larne
The Port of Larne

But could the political complexion of the seat be about to change again?

Those three parties – DUP, UUP and Alliance – have long been a fairly stable triumvirate in East Antrim, a place so thoroughly unionist that it has only ever sent two Irish unity candidates to Stormont since the Assembly was created.

The first was Danny O’Connor of the SDLP, who narrowly made it through in 1998 to claim a seat for a single term.

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The second was Oliver McMullan of Sinn Fein, who twice managed to secure enough votes for a seat, in 2011 and then briefly again in 2016, before being turfed out again 10 months later.

The strong unionist vote in East Antrim is why the TUV considers this area one of its best prospects.

Much as the last Assembly election in March 2017, the UUP will be fielding two candidates this time around.

The DUP meanwhile will also field only two, giving up on any ambitions to expand their number of MLAs.

Alliance will likewise field a pair.

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And one of the main questions in the minds of their respective party machines is likely to be this: Will Mr McMullan swing enough votes this time to become East Antrim’s only nationalist / republican representative?

Let’s examine the stats.


The SDLP has not had the clout to pose a serious threat in the constituency since 2007.

At that time, the party’s candidate Daniel O’Connor pulled in 1,769 first preference votes (5.9% of the total) – only just behind UUP man Ken Robinson, who scored 1,881 (6.3%).

Ever since, the SDLP vote has shrivelled: 4.6% in 2001, 3.8% in 2016, 4.1% in 2017.

The opposite has happened for Sinn Fein.

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In 2003 Mr McMullan took 3.9% of first preference votes, 8.2% in 2011, 8.1% in 2016, then 9.9% in 2017 – very slimly losing out to a UUP candidate on transfer votes.

But a victory for Mr McMullan will likely depend on transfers from SDLP supporters and other like-minded voters – which is why Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has urged unionist voters to transfer strictly to all unionist candidates on the ballot paper.


Cheryl Brownlee, a DUP councillor in Carrickfergus and assistant to MLA incumbent Davy Hilditch, said: “The way I look at it, there’s nothing guaranteed in this constituency. I know people may be think it’s a cert or guaranteed for certain parties – but it’s not.”

As for the possibility of Sinn Fein taking a seat, she said: “As many people as possible need to get out and vote; I’d always be concerned that if there’s complacency, then that could happen.”

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As for any mooted backlash against the DUP over its handling of the NI Protocol (East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson was booed at one rally in February), councillor Brownlee said the Protocol “certainly has come up” on the doorsteps but with “not as many [constituents] as I thought”.

Mr Hilditch, she said, can “knock doors with confidence”.


Meanwhile John Stewart of the UUP told the News Letter that cost-of-living and the creaking NHS seem to be more prevalent in voters’ thinking than the Protocol.

As to the prospects for Sinn Fein to seize a seat, he told the News Letter: “It was a coup you’ll remember last time in 2017 to take the seat that I did.

“I was the only success for unionism in the whole of Northern Ireland, and the only loss for Sinn Fein in 2017. No-one expected me to take that. Obviously we’ve knocked our pan in for the last five years to try and build on that.

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“All the pundits are saying I’m the most vulnerable person in East Antrim out of the five seats, and, based on pure numbers, they’re probably right. Based on the numbers there’s a threat undoubtedly from Alliance, and Sinn Fein potentially as well.”

As for other challengers, East Antrim is seen as one of the TUV’s better hopes. The party’s candidate Norman Boyd was an MLA in the early days of the Assembly with Robert McCartney’s UK Unionist Party.

Mr Boyd will be hoping to clinch a Stormont seat by drawing votes away from other unionist candidates over the protocol (the party has changed its name to ‘TUV: No Sea Border’).


David Hilditch (DUP) – 6,000 (16%) ELECTED

Roy Beggs (UUP) – 5,121 (13.7%) ELECTED

Stewart Dickson – (Alliance) 4,179 (11.2%) ELECTED

Gordon Lyons (DUP) – 3,851 (10.3%) ELECTED

Oliver McMullan (SF) – 3,701 (9.9%)

John Stewart (UUP) – 3,377 (9%) ELECTED

Stephen Ross (DUP) – 3,313 (8.9%)

Danny Donnelly (Alliance) – 1,817 (4.9%)

Noel Jordan (UKIP) 1,579 – (4.2%)

Ruth Wilson (TUV) 1,534 – (4.1%)

Margaret McKillop (SDLP) – 1,524 (4.1%)

Dawn Patterson (Green) – 777 (2.1%)

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Conor Sheridan (Cross Community Labour Alternative) – 393 (1.1%)

Alan Dunlop (Conservatives) – 152 (0.4%)

Ricky Best (Independent) – 106 (0.3%)


Sammy Wilson, DUP, 16,871, 45.3% ELECTED

Danny Donnelly, Alliance, 10,165, 27.3%

Steve Aiken, UUP, 5,475, 14.7%

Oliver McMullan, Sinn Fein, 2,120, 5.7%

Aaron Rankin, Conservative, 1,043, 2.8%

Angela Mulholland, SDLP, 902, 2.4%

Philip Randle, Green, 685, 1.8%


Roy Beggs (UUP)

Stewart Dickson (Alliance)

Davy Hilditch (DUP)

Gordon Lyons (DUP)

John Stewart (UUP)


Mark Bailey (Green)

Roy Beggs (UUP)

Norman Boyd (TUV)

Stewart Dickson (Alliance)

Danny Donnelly (Alliance)

Davy Hilditch (DUP)

Gordon Lyons (DUP)

Siobhán McAlister (SDLP)

Oliver McMullan (SF)

John Stewart (UUP)

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