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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Latest stories from i100
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

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain