election battle in the North's Super Six constituencies
will not just be a strong pointer as to the make-up
of the new Assembly, but also if a power-sharing
Executive between Unionists and Republicans is
definitely on the cards for late March.
more than 250 candidates are contesting 108 seats
across the North's 18 constituencies, it will
be the outcome of 36 seats in three major Unionist
areas and three nationalist areas which will be
the first hints if the Executive can be formed
by the 26 March deadline.
Unionist battlegrounds are; North Antrim, North
Down and East Belfast, while the main nationalist
fights are in Newry and Armagh, Fermanagh and
South Tyrone, and Foyle.
North Antrim, Paisley Senior and Junior's stomping
ground, the key question is how badly the DUP
vote and its three seats - will be affected
by two dissident Unionist runners.
poor showing for Paisley Junior could well be
the tonic for Kells-based DUP MEP Jim Allister
to consider seeking the North Antrim Westminster
nomination once Paisley Senior retires, given
the Big Man of Northern politics is almost aged
DUP is defending 32 seats, but if it returns 28
or less because of defections to dissident Unionist
candidates or voter apathy, the Paisley camp could
face a neck-and-neck battle with SF to remain
the number one Northern party.
assumes SF can comfortably fend off the electoral
threat posed by leading dissident republican candidates
running in traditional Provo heartlands.
there is to be a UUP revival in fortunes after
the 2005 General Election hammering, it will come,
too, in North Antrim. In the 2003 Stormont poll,
the UUP lost a relatively safe seat to SF.
UUP is hoping with splits in the Paisley camp
and republican community, it can win a seat back.
Fein caused a major upset in the Paisleyite stronghold
by winning its first Assembly seat in 2003, but
faces a strong challenge from dissident republican
Paul McGlinchey, brother of the former INLA boss
three-way nationalist vote split will be seen
at its most intense in the predominantly Catholic
constituency of Foyle between the dominant SDLP,
SF and another high profile dissident republican
Peggy O'Hara, mother of INLA hunger striker Patsy
SF is to hold its lead over the SDLP, it must
make significant inroads to the moderate, middle
class Catholic vote in Foyle.
if the SDLP is to avoid an electoral meltdown,
it must hold its ground in Foyle, the home turf
of party boss Mark Durkan. Any loss of SDLP seats
in Derry could well place Durkan's future leadership
under an intense spotlight.
area where dissident republicans could cause problems
for SF is in Newry and Armagh where SF wants to
get three seats. However, a split nationalist
vote will not benefit the SDLP, but could allow
Unionists to win a seat.
this respect, all eyes will be on former DUP golden
boy Paul Berry, who left the party amid allegations
concerning his personal life, and is now running
as an independent.
notion of a Unionist revival because of a split
republican vote will be at its sharpest in the
border area of Fermanagh/ South Tyrone, once the
bastion of the UUP.
more high profile dissident republicans challenging
SF for the nationalist vote, the Unionist family
could pick up an additional seat but will
it be the Paisley camp or the UUP?
constituency poses the key query in areas where
the Unionist family has a chance to play on republican
infighting as to what brand of Unionism border
Protestants will plump for.
2003 was the Assembly election which largely saw
the independent and fringe parties wiped out in
favour of mainstream Unionism and Republicanism,
the main parties could find a hard fight against
the number of independents and smaller parties
in North Down.
constituency has three independent candidates,
including security journalist Brian Rowan. North
Down also represents the best chance for the British
Tories to grab a seat with former UUP Junior Minister
James Leslie their runner.
is also the home turf of leading dissident Unionist
and barrister Bob McCartney, who is standing in
six constituencies across the North under the
United Kingdom Unionist banner.
Alliance 'big gun' and former Assembly Speaker
Eileen Bell retired, North Down could also herald
the first major break through of the Green Party
into Northern politics.
a real cockpit battle within Unionism will be
fought in the largely Protestant constituency
of East Belfast and the latest head-to-head between
DUP deputy boss and leading pro-deal champion
Peter Robinson, and UUP supremo Reg Empey.
Belfast will also be a test if the Progressive
Unionists, the political spokespeople for the
banned loyalist terror gangs, the UVF and Red
Hand Commando, can hold the seat of former party
boss David Ervine, who died suddenly in January.
PUP supremo Dawn Purvis will have a tough fight
even with a sympathy vote to hold
onto the party's sole Assembly seat.
key to the formation of an Executive may well
be decided by the level of defections from the
DUP and SF to the rival dissident camps.