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ireland, irish, ulster, ireland, irish, ulster, Sinn Féin, Irish America

Election results may surprise and Jim Allister is the one to watch

(Suzanne Breen, Sunday Life)

There'S no real battle for the vote in nationalist politics nowadays. Thursday's election seems like a technicality.

Sinn Féin will thrash the SDLP and reinforce its position as the overwhelmingly dominant party on the green side of our divide.

Intellectually, Alex Attwood may be streets ahead of former beauty queen turned bomber Martina Anderson. But the SDLP secured the losers' label long ago and can't shake it off.

There are many decent people in the party but its election broadcast – an unbelievably dull series of still photographs – highlights an absence of imagination and organisation.

The lack of competition in nationalism is depressing for democracy. In the council elections, there's a challenge from 'independent republicans' in Belfast and Derry.

If any are elected, it will be first chink in Sinn Féin's electoral armour in hardline republican areas.

The DUP desperately needs to improve on Diane Dodds' dismal 2009 performance when its EU vote fell from 176,000 to 88,000. It must retrieve half its lost support for a good election.

The Duppers have an awesome electoral machine but the on-the-runs' controversy and Gerry Adams' arrest saga have angered grassroots unionists. The key question is whether they stay at home or come out and vote against the party.

The man hoping to capitalise on the discontent is Jim Allister. He polled 66,000 in 2004 but had the big advantage of being a sitting MEP then, and this time he has a UKIP rival.

Yet Allister's one man opposition in Stormont has won him respect – even in unlikely quarters – and it would be no surprise to see him poll strongly. He's the one to watch.

The battle for the middle-ground is fascinating. NI21 is like Alliance on steroids. Its election broadcast was in a different league to others' stodgy, sterile offerings.

It hasn't been afraid to canvass in republican areas and has shown genuine non-sectarianism by using Irish on election posters. Even if the critics are correct and it does crash and burn, NI21 has been a breath of fresh air.

May 19, 2014
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This article appeared in the May 18, 2014 edition of the Sunday Life.

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