By Tommie Gorman and Gail Conway

The DUP won ten of Northern Ireland's 18 seats in the 2017 Westminster Election, called by Theresa May.

The party became the key to keeping her minority Conservative Party administration in power.

The DUP’s decision to not back the Brexit deal of Boris Johnson - Mrs May’s successor - pushed him to trigger next month’s general election.

It is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga of unpredictable twists and turns.

Will Boris Johnson get an overall majority? Might he again be dependent on the DUP in a hung parliament? Could Jeremy Corbyn, helped by the Scottish National Party and/or the Liberal Democrats, become the next prime minister? How will European politics be affected by the first member state divorce in the history of the European Union?

Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies are providing a juicy quota of subplots. In total 102 candidates are involved.

  • In South Belfast will the SDLP’s Clare Hanna oust the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly in what is a pro-Remain constituency?
  • What will happen in North Belfast where Sinn Féin are working to unseat the DUP’s leader in Westminister, Nigel Dodds? Just three candidates are running in this constituency - the DUP, Sinn Fein and Alliance.
  • In Foyle, can SDLP leader Colum Eastwood oust Sinn Féin’s Alisha McCallion and recapture the seat once held by his predecessors, Mark Durkan and John Hume?
  • In Fermanagh & South Tyrone, what will be the outcome of the latest chapter in the Orange/Green battle - can Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew see off the challenge of Ulster Unionist Tom Elliot?
  • In North Down, who will take the seat vacated by the retirement of Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon? Is it a likely DUP gain or can the Alliance Party build on its successes of the European and local elections?
  • In East Belfast what chance has Alliance Party leader Naomi Long of unseating the DUP’s Gavin Robinson? Again, just three candidates are running here - Alliance, the DUP and the UUP.

Westminster elections are single-seat constituency, first-past-the-post contests so there is no room for the subtleties and nuances of multi-seat, proportional representation elections. Yet in next month’s battles the role of smaller parties could be highly significant. If they did not take seats, they could influence outcomes.

The Greens are deliberately not running candidates in Belfast in an effort to help pro-Remain parties. Jim Allister’s TUV organisation often has the DUP looking nervously over its right shoulder but on this occasion it will not be offering candidates.

Peadar Tóibín, the former Sinn Féin TD, has 7 candidates running under the Aontú banner. Significantly Aontú is not running in North Belfast or in Fermanagh & South Tyrone but it could have a small but significant influence in Foyle and, to a lesser extent, South Belfast.

Pacts, official and unofficial, are also a feature.

  • The SDLP is not running in North Belfast where Sinn Féin's John Finucane is seeking to oust the DUP’s Nigel Dodds.
  • Sinn Féin will not compete in South Belfast where the SDLP’s Clare Hanna is favourite to unseat the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly.
  • The Ulster Unionist Party amended the promise of new leader Steve Aiken to run in all 18 constituencies. It won’t stand against Nigel Dodds in North Belfast. In a reciprocal gesture the DUP is leaving the UUP the space to compete against Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh & South Tyrone.

Voting takes place on Thursday 12 December. Counting will begin immediately after polls close at four centres in Belfast, Magherafelt, Omagh and Bangor.

Below is a taster of what’s to come.


BELFAST EAST 

Outgoing MP: Gavin Robinson (DUP) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 48.6% Leave 51.4% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 67.7%, eight candidates contested, with 23,917 votes the DUP's Gavin Robinson was more than 8,000 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, Naomi Long (Alliance). 

The 2019 Contest

Naomi Long (Alliance) sensationally ousted the DUP leader, Peter Robinson, in 2010. Gavin Robinson won back the seat for the DUP in 2015 and increased his majority in 2017. This latest rematch is a big ask for the Alliance party leader, despite her winning a European Parliament seat and Alliance success in the May local elections. 

Candidates

Naomi Long, Alliance; Carl Mc Clean, UUP; Gavin Robinson, DUP.


BELFAST NORTH 

Outgoing MP: Nigel Dodds (DUP) 

Brexit referendum result 2016Remain 50.4% Leave 49.6% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 67.6%, six candidates contested, with 21,240 votes the DUP’s Nigel Dodds was more than 2,081 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, John Finucane (Sinn Féin). 

The 2019 Contest

The Alamo. No Ulster Unionist or SDLP candidates. In a marginally pro-Remain constituency, Sinn Féin’s John Finucane trying to oust the DUP Deputy leader, Nigel Dodds. Both parties putting huge resources into the contest. Outcome with have significant consequences for big picture politics.  

Candidates

Nigel Dodds, DUP; John Finucane, Sinn Féin; Nuala McAllister, Alliance.


BELFAST SOUTH  

Outgoing MP: Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 69.5% Leave 30.5% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 66.31%, seven candidates contested, with 13,299 votes the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly was 1,996 votes ahead of her nearest challenger, outing MP Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP). 

The 2019 Contest

The DUP’s most vulnerable seat. An almost 70% Remain constituency with a pro-Brexit MP.  Emma Little-Pengelly had 1,996 votes to spare over Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP) in 2017 but the combined Green Party, Sinn Féin and Alliance party votes totalled 17,030. Clare Hanna (SDLP) is the favourite to take the seat but she will require defectors from other parties to succeed.  In an effort to assist other pro-Remain candidates, the Greens are running no candidates in Belfast. Green Party leader Clare Bailey received 2,241 votes in this constituency two years ago. 

Candidates

Paula Bradshaw, Alliance; Claire Hanna, SDLP; Michael Henderson, UUP; Emma Little-Pengelly, DUP; Chris McHugh, Aontú.


BELFAST WEST 

Outgoing MP: Paul Maskey (Sinn Féin) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 74.1% Leave 25.9% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 65.41%, six candidates contested, with 27,107 votes Sinn Féin’s Paul Maskey was 21,652 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, Frank McCoubrey (DUP). 

The 2019 Contest

Sinn Féin’s Paul Maskey is on course to retain his seat.  The Brexit Referendum turnout in this constituency was 48.85%, the lowest in Northern Ireland 

Candidates

Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit; Monica Digney, Aontú; Paul Doherty, SDLP; Donna Marie Higgins, Alliance; Paul Maskey, Sinn Féin; Frank McCoubrey; DUP.


EAST ANTRIM 

Outgoing MP: Sammy Wilson (DUP) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 44.8% Leave 55.2% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 60.83%, six candidates contested, with 21,873 votes the DUP’s Sammy Wilson was 15,923 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, Stewart Dickson (Alliance). 

The 2019 Contest

The DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, had a huge surplus and should retain his seat. Steve Aiken, the new Ulster Unionist party leader, is a candidate. This was the third highest Leave constituency in the Brexit referendum at 55.2%. 

Candidates

Steve Aiken, UUP; Danny Donnelly, Alliance; Oliver McMullan, Sinn Féin; Angela Mulholland, SDLP; Philip Randle, Green Party; Aaron Rankin, Conservative; Sammy Wilson; DUP.


EAST LONDONDERRY 

Outgoing MP: Gregory Campbell (DUP) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 52% Leave 48% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 61.57%, six candidates contested, with 19,723 votes the DUP’s Gregory Campbell was 8,842 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, Dermot Nicholl (Sinn Féin). 

The 2019 Contest

The DUP’s Gregory Campbell should retain his seat in what was a marginally pro-Remain constituency.  He received 48% of the votes in a six-candidate contest, two years ago.  

Candidates

Gregory Campbell, DUP; Richard Holmes, UUP; Cara Hunter, SDLP; Chris McCaw, Alliance; Sean McNicholl, Aontú; Dermot Nicholl, Sinn Féin.


FERMANAGH & SOUTH TRYONE 

Outgoing MP: Michelle Gildernew (Sinn Féin) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 58.6% Leave 41.4 % 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 76.08%, five candidates contested, with 25,230 votes Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew was 875 votes ahead of her nearest challenger, the outgoing MP, Tom Elliot (Ulster Unionist). 

The 2019 Contest

Another Alamo. A border constituency where Bobby Sands was elected a Sinn Féin MP almost 30 years ago.  Tom Elliot of the UUP is trying to regain the seat he lost to Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew. The DUP again standing aside and not putting up a candidate in Arlene Foster’s home constituency.  017 turnout was the highest in Northern Ireland. Michelle Gildernew had a four vote advantage over the agreed unionist candidate in 2010. 

Candidates

Matthew Beaumont, Alliance; Tom Elliot, UUP; Adam Gannon, SDLP; Michelle Gildernew, Sinn Féin; Caroline Wheeler, Independent.


FOYLE 

Outgoing MP: Elisha McCallion (Sinn Féin) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 78.3% Leave 21.7 % 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 65.6%, five candidates contested, with 18,256 votes Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion was 169 votes ahead of her nearest challenger, the outgoing MP, Mark Durkan (SDLP). 

The 2019 Contest

The key nationalist contest – in the home of John Hume and Martin McGuinness, a border constituency. The highest pro-remain constituency at 78.3% in the Brexit referendum. Two years ago, three months after the death of Martin McGuinness, Alisha McCallion, a niece of MEP Martina Anderson, ousted former SDLP leader, Mark Durkan. He subsequently ran for Fine Gael in the Dublin constituency Euro elections but failed to win a seat. Now Colum Eastwood, SDLP leader, tries to regain the Westminster seat for his party. How will the Aontú candidate, retired GP Geraldine Donnelly fare? She got 1,000 votes in the May local elections.  Who will be affected by her presence? Will some unionists 'lend’ their vote to the SDLP and might that orange/green equation be affected by Sinn Féin/SDLP pact arrangements elsewhere? 

Candidates

Colum Eastwood, SDLP; Rachael Ferguson, Alliance; Darren Guy, UUP; Shaun Harkin, People Before Profit; Elisha McCallion, Sinn Féin; Anne McCloskey, Aontú; Gary Middleton, DUP.


LAGAN VALLEY 

Outgoing MPJeffrey Donaldson (DUP) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 46.9% Leave 53.1% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 62.23 %, seven candidates contested, with 26,672 votes the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson was 19,229 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, Robbie Butler (Ulster Unionist Party).

The 2019 Contest

The sitting DUP MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, should retain his seat with ease.

Candidates

Robbie Butler, UUP; Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP; Sorcha Eastwood, Alliance; Ally Haydock, SDLP; Gary Hynds, Conservative; Alan Love, UKIP; Gary McCleave, Sinn Féin.


MID ULSTER 

Outgoing MP: Francie Molloy (Sinn Féin) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 60.4% Leave 39.6% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 68.59 %, five candidates contested, with 25,455 votes Sinn Féin’s Francie Molloy was 12,890 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, Keith Buchanan (DUP). 

The 2019 Contest

The sitting MP, Sinn Féin’s Francie Molloy, should retain his seat with ease.

Candidates 

Mel Boyle, Alliance; Keith Buchanan, DUP; Denise Johnston, SDLP; Francie Molloy, Sinn Féin; Conor Rafferty, Independent; Neil Richardson, UUP.


NEWRY & ARMAGH 

Outgoing MP: Mickey Brady (Sinn Féin) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 62.9% Leave 37.1% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 68.87 %, five candidates contested, with 25,666 votes Sinn Féin’s Mickey Brady was 12,489 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, William Irwin (DUP). 

The 2019 Contest

Mickey Brady, one of the seven outgoing Sinn Féin MP’s, should comfortably retain his seat. An interesting point may be whether Sinn Féin’s abstentionist policy registers in any way in what is a border constituency.

Candidates 

Mickey Brady, Sinn Féin; Pete Byrne, SDLP; Jackie Coade, Alliance; William Irwin, DUP; Martin Kelly, Aontú; Sam Nicholson, UUP.


NORTH ANTRIM 

Outgoing MP: Ian Paisley (DUP) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 37.8% Leave 62.2 % 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 64.21 %, six candidates contested, with 28,521 votes the DUP’s Ian Paisley was 20,643 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, Cara McShane (Sinn Féin). 

The 2019 Contest

Ian Paisley featured in a number of Westminster controversies. But he received 59% of the votes two years ago. He will be boosted by the resolution of the Wrightbus factory problem in recent weeks and should comfortably retain his seat. The highest pro-Leave constituency in the Brexit referendum at 62.2%. 

Candidates

Margaret McKillop, SDLP; Cara McShane, Sinn Féin; Patricia O'Lynn, Alliance; Ian Paisley, DUP; Stephen Palmer, Independent; Robin Swann, UUP.


NORTH DOWN 

Outgoing MP: Sylvia Hermon (Independent) *retiring 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 52.4% Leave 47.6% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 61.04 %, eight candidates contested, with 16,148 votes Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon was 1,208 votes ahead of her nearest challenger, Alex Easton (DUP). 

The 2019 Contest

The vacancy created by Sylvia Hermon’s retirement probably opens the door for the DUP or Alliance. Alex Easton (DUP) lost the 2017 contest by 1,208 votes. The Alliance candidate Andrew Muir (3,639) was significantly behind Easton (14,940). Stephen Farry, the Alliance party deputy leader, should boost his party’s chances but the DUP will see North Down as a possible gain, even though it was a pro-Remain constituency (52.3%).

Candidates 

Alan Chambers, UUP; Alex Easton, DUP; Stephen Farry, Alliance; Matthew Robinson, Conservative.


SOUTH ANTRIM 

Outgoing MP: Paul Girvan (DUP) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 49.4 % Leave 50.6% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 63.44 %, five candidates contested, with 16,508 votes the DUP’s Paul Girvan was 3,208 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, the outgoing Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan.  

The 2019 Contest

If the Ulster Unionist party is to stage a comeback, this has to become a success story. Danny Kinahan returns to contest the seat he lost two years ago.  

Candidates

John Blair, Alliance; Paul Girvan, DUP; Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin; Danny Kinahan, UUP; Roisin Lynch, SDLP.


SOUTH DOWN 

Outgoing MP: Chris Hazzard (Sinn Féin) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 67.2% Leave 32.8% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 67.49%, five candidates contested, with 20,328 votes Sinn Féin’s Chris Hazzard was 2,446 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, the outgoing SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie.  

The 2019 Contest

Margaret Ritchie moved to the House of Lords so Michael Savage is the SDLP candidate, trying to recapture the seat lost to Chris Hazzard two years ago. Sinn Féin will be confident they will hold what they have. 

Candidates

Paul Brady, Aontú; Patrick Brown, Alliance; Glyn Hanna, DUP; Chris Hazzard, Sinn Féin; Jill MacAuley, UUP; Michael Savage, SDLP.


STRANGFORD 

Outgoing MP: Jim Shannon (DUP) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 44.5% Leave 55.5% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 60.36 %, seven candidates contested, with 24,036 votes the DUP’s Jim Shannon was 18,343 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, Kellie Armstrong (Alliance). 

The 2019 Contest

Jim Shannon (DUP) should comfortably retain his seat. This is the second highest pro-Leave constituency at 55.5%. 

Candidates

Grant Abraham, Conservative; Kellie Armstrong, Alliance; Joe Boyle, SDLP; Ryan Carlin, Sinn Féin; Maurice McCartney, Green Party; Jim Shannon, DUP; Philip Smith, UUP; Robert Stephenson, UKIP.


UPPER BANN 

Outgoing MP: David Simpson (DUP) *retiring 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 47.4% Leave 52.6% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 64.15%, five candidates contested, with 22,317 votes the DUP’s David Simpson was 7,992 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, John O’Dowd (Sinn Féin). 

The 2019 Contest

The DUP chose 34-year-old Carla Lockhart, an Assembly member since 2016, to contest the seat vacated by party member, David Simpson. Arlene Foster once worked as a solicitor in the area but she decided to stay focused on NI Assembly politics. John O’Dowd, will again be the Sinn Féin candidate, fresh from his challenge to Michelle O’Neill for the Sinn Féin vice-president role. He received 14,325 votes in 2017. One of the leading UUP members, Doug Beattie, is also running. He got 7,900 votes in 2017. SDLP stalwart Dolores Kelly will be seeking to improve on the 4,397 total of Declan Mc Alinden. 

Candidates

Doug Beattie, UUP; Dolores Kelly, SDLP; Carla Lockhart, DUP; John O'Dowd, Sinn Fein; Eoin Tennyson, Alliance.


WEST TYRONE 

Outgoing MP: Orfhlaith Begley (Sinn Féin) 

Brexit referendum result 2016: Remain 66.8% Leave 33.2% 

The 2017 story 

Turnout was 68.23 %, seven candidates contested, with 22,060 votes Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff was 10,342 votes ahead of his nearest challenger,Thomas Buchanan (DUP). 

Barry McElduff later resigned his seat and in the resultant May 2018 by-election, five candidates contested, turnout was 55.13% and Sinn Féin’s Orfhlaith Begley, with 16,346 votes, was 7,956 ahead of her nearest challenger, Thomas Buchanan (DUP). 

The 2019 Contest

Orfhlaith Begley should comfortably retain the seat she won in a by-election last year. Assembly member, Daniel Mc Crossan (SDLP), has been building his profile, despite the ongoing closure of Stormont. But the main interest in this pro-Remain border constituency will be the margins of difference.  

Candidates

Orfhlaith Begley, Sinn Féin; Thomas Buchanan, DUP; Stephen Donnelly, Alliance; Susan Glass, Green Party; James Hope, Aontú; Daniel McCrossan, SDLP; Andy McKane, UUP.