General Election 2017: North Belfast battle for Dodds to retain seat

In 2015, unionists were nervous about the ability of Nigel Dodds to hold this seat.

In the event, the DUP deputy leader – who has been MP here since 2001 – did so with relative ease.

Sinclair Seaman's Presbyterian Church, in inner-north Belfast

Sinclair Seaman's Presbyterian Church, in inner-north Belfast

Mr Dodds was a comfortable 5,000 votes in front of his Sinn Fein challenger, Gerry Kelly.

He had been only 2,224 votes in front of his ex IRA foe in 2010.

The narrowness of that result led to the Ulster Unionists standing down in 2015, to keep the seat unionist – a ploy that worked.

This time the Ulster Unionists are again not standing – indeed they did so voluntarily, and soon after the general election was announced.

It had once been a safe seat for the party but after Cecil Walker lost it to Mr Dodds in 2001, support had shifted emphatically towards the DUP.

The UUP decision not to stand again ought to mean that Mr Dodds, a former lord mayor, gets back to Westminster, but in fact this is being seen as a battle for his political survival.

The March Assembly election had unionists and nationalists almost in a dead heat in terms of combined votes (combined unionist 17,780, combined nationalist 17,635).

Many nationalists had stayed away from the polls in 2015, inflating the Dodds margin of victory.

This time, John Finucane is expected to appeal to many SDLP voters. But the fact that the latter party is nonetheless fielding a candidate against the Sinn Fein man (Martin McAuley, a press officer who denies he is a paper candidate) should keep enough nationalist votes off Mr Finucane’s total to ensure Mr Dodds gets back.

But continual demographic is working in Sinn Fein’s long-term favour in the area

Meanwhile, in this deeply divided constituency, Alliance has been building a solid base, which further complicates electoral predictions.

Candidates for 2017:

• Nigel Dodds, DUP

• John Finucane, Sinn Fein

• Martin McAuley, SDLP

• Sam Nelson, Alliance

• Malachi O’Hara, Green Party

• Gemma Weir, Workers Party

2015 results:

Nigel Dodds (DUP): 19,096 (47%)

G Kelly (SF): 13,770 (33.9%)

A Maginness (SDLP): 3,338 (8.2%)

J O’Neill (Alliance): 2,941 (7.2%)

Gemma Weir (WP): 919 (2.3%)

Fra Hughes (Ind.): 529 (1.3%)

Electorate: 68,553

Turnout: 40,887 (59.6%)

Combined unionist vote: 47% (only one candidate)

2010 results:

Nigel Dodds (DUP): 14,812 (40%)

G Kelly (SF): 12,588 (34%)

A Maginness (SDLP): 4,544 (12.3%)

F Cobain (Ulster Cons. and Unionists): 2,837 (7.7%)

W Webb (Alliance): 1,809 (4.9%)

M McAuley (Ind.): 403 (1.1%)

Electorate: 65,504

Turnout: 37,233 (56.8%)

Combined unionist vote: 47.7%