Rivals agree: Sinn Féin candidate Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (left) is joined by outgoing SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell and Workers' Party South Belfast candidate Lily Kerr outside the City Hospital in Belfast lobbying to protect the National Health Service from the proposed international Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement.
By Anthony Neeson
Northern Ireland goes to the polls tomorrow to vote in the Westminster election.
Eighteen seats are up for grabs and while many are viewed as a foregone conclusion three of the four Belfast seats could see a change of MP.
In West Belfast, Sinn Féin’s Paul Maskey is expected to top the poll; however, North Belfast will be a two way tussle between outgoing MP, the DUP’s Nigel Dodds, and Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly.
Although the SDLP are also standing in this seat, Kelly is trying to convince nationalists that they now have a majority in this constituency which was once a bastion of unionism, and to come out and make history on May 7.
In East Belfast the DUP are favorites to wrestle the seat back from Alliance’s Naomi Long, who famously defeated First Minister Peter Robinson five years ago.
That said, Long has proved to be a formidable politician and she is fighting for every vote in a constituency that was the center of the loyalist flag protest.
Another intriguing battle is in the south of the city. SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, who has been MP for the constituency for ten years, has been criticized in many quarters for running a lack luster campaign. He is defending a 6,000 majority but this time Sinn Féin are in the field with South Belfast MLA (and Irish Echo publisher) Máirtin Ó Muilleoir, while the DUP are also talking up their chances of splitting the nationalist vote and winning the seat.
However, Dr. McDonnell is confident of being returned as MP.
“My record of delivery for South Belfast over the last ten years as an MP and over the least thirty years as an elected representative and community activist stands for itself,” he told the Irish Echo.
“We have delivered economic growth and job creation in places like the Gasworks. We have welcomed a new migrant community that has enriched our constituency. I want to build on that success and I sense that the people here back my plans to do that. With their support and the support of my fantastic canvassing teams, we will retain this seat and use that mandate to lock the Tories out of government.”
Sinn Féin’s Ó Muilleoir, whose odds have plummeted dramatically from 33/1 on the day the campaign began to just 4/1 this week, said he is receiving strong support during canvassing.
“I am buoyed by the positive reaction on the doorsteps as I pledge to deliver the platform of progress which I popularized as Lord Mayor of Belfast: building the peace, fostering reconciliation, celebrating diversity and focusing on jobs and investment.”
“I topped the poll last year in Balmoral (ward), my colleague Deirdre Hargey topped the poll in Botanic, and I am very confident that I will top the nationalist poll this time and take the seat with the support of progressives right across the constituency,” he said in reference to last year’s Belfast City Council election.
Candidates are also standing for the Legislative Assembly at Stormont.