The 2010 General Election Guide

The Regions: Northern Ireland

Unionists could emerge as crucial allies for either of the big parties

The outcome of the election in Northern Ireland could have an important impact on the peace process, and indeed on the UK as a whole, in the event of a close overall result.

Most attention will be focused on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), led by Peter Robinson, whose wayward wife Iris's sexual and financial affairs caused such turmoil in recent months.

The DUP goes into the election holding nine of Northern Ireland's 18 Westminster seats. A good result for the party, for example retaining all or most of these, would give it a bloc which could interest Labour or the Conservatives – should either emerge from the election short of seats to provide a working majority.

Although the DUP has many differences with the British parties, it is a fair bet that it would be prepared to consider approaches from either Labour or the Tories. That has certainly been the case in the past, when Unionist MPs wrung concessions from weak governments headed by James Callaghan and John Major. On both occasions, nationalists protested that British governments were putting their parliamentary needs before providing even-handed administration in Northern Ireland.

The DUP has its troubles, how- ever, having been shaken in recent months by the Iris Robinson saga. With many voters disgruntled by the reports of sexual and financial excesses, at least two DUP seats are at risk. Losing them would put in question the future of Mr Robinson, who as well as being party leader is First Minister in the Assembly. This in turn would destabilise the power-sharing government.

In Mrs Robinson's former seat of Strangford, a DUP candidate will face Mike Nesbitt, a well-known Belfast TV presenter who is standing for the smaller Ulster Unionists, with the support of the Conservative Party. This is probably the UUP's best chance of winning a seat.

The UUP has formed an alliance with the Conservatives, the two parties saying that they will put up candidates in all 18 constituencies, and that they together represent "a new, dynamic political force". This initiative encountered an early setback when the UUP's sole MP, the Labour-leaning Lady Sylvia Hermon, refused to stand on the joint ticket with the Tories.

The DUP's other seat at risk is North Antrim, which was held by the party's founder, the Rev Ian Paisley, for almost four decades. His son, Ian Paisley Junior, will stand, in an attempt to keep alive the Paisley political dynasty. He will face a strong challenge from Jim Allister, a one-time DUP member who is now a forceful critic of sharing power with Sinn Fein and other parties. This will be one of the most spirited contests, since an Allister victory would be seen as a defeat not just for the Paisley family but also for the power-sharing project. A Westminster seat would give a powerful platform to Mr Allister, an articulate QC, to press his campaign against the peace process.

While the Iris Robinson episode turned off many DUP supporters, Westminster elections can exert a powerful tribal pull, with voters overcoming misgivings to cast votes primarily intended to make sure "the other side" does not gain seats.

Sinn Fein, meanwhile, looks likely to hold its five seats, as the party has in recent years steadily pulled away from its moderate nationalist rivals, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). In one seat, South Down, a woman SDLP Stormont minister will be facing a challenge from a woman Sinn Fein minister.

Although Northern Ireland is run by a four-party coalition, personalities from each will be pitted against each other in most seats.

There had been speculation that the republicans might lose support due to allegations that Gerry Adams, its president and the MP for West Belfast, had not done enough to expose child abuse within his family.

The general view however is that party support has not been significantly damaged by the episode. Sinn Fein may, however, be anxious that a forthcoming book could contain damaging allegations about Mr Adams' republican past which could put the party on the defensive.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice