TUV hoping for heartland gains as SDLP fights to keep sole councillor

The Braid council offices in Ballymena.
The Braid council offices in Ballymena.

The staunchly unionist Mid and East Antrim Borough Council looks set to follow the same pattern at this year’s local government election.

With 40 seats up for grabs, a total of 45 candidates from unionist parties will be vying to be elected on May 2.

The Alliance Party will be fielding eight candidates across the borough, while only one has been nominated from the SDLP alongside four Sinn Fein representatives.

Five independent councillors completed the first term of the super council and nine independent candidates have announced their intention to stand in this year’s contest.

The DUP has ended the council term with 15 elected members and will be fielding 19 candidates across the borough’s seven District Electoral Areas next week.

In comparison, the UUP has selected 12 candidates for the election, having secured nine seats at the 2014 poll.

Speaking to the Larne Times, a spokesperson for the Ulster Unionist Party said: “All our candidates are people rooted in their local communities who will speak up for and represent their local districts above all.

“With the new amalgamated council, a lot of the local has been lost from local government. We will seek to put it back and resist centralisation of services and functions.”

Traditional Unionist Voice enjoyed electoral success last time round, securing five seats, with local party members hoping their nine candidates can build on this at this year’s poll.

Historically, north Antrim has been the epicentre of TUV success, but the party is hoping to make further inroads in east Antrim, and with veteran Carrick councillor May Beattie now on board, they are eyeing a seat in the Knockagh ward.

A TUV spokesperson said: “Mid and East Antrim would be seen as fertile ground for TUV due to our strong presence in the chamber. The most common council issue that we’re hearing on the doors is the disappointment that other parties didn’t support our fully costed rates freeze and instead voted to up the rate by 1.98 per cent. The party is confident to win back the five seats it won in 2014 with other additions very possible in Braid, Knockagh and Larne Lough.”

Aside from the battle to be top party in the chamber, an interesting aspect of the 2019 election could see the SDLP finish with no representation on the local authority.

Long-serving SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan, who was the party’s sole elected member in the super council, will not be contesting the election on May 2 after 26 years in his role.

The party has selected his running mate from 2014, Eugene Reid, to stand in Mr O’Loan’s Ballymena ward. Mr Reid secured 289 first preference votes in the poll five years ago and will be the only SDLP candidate on the ballot papers across the whole borough.

Sinn Fein secured two seats on the local authority following the amalgamation of Larne, Carrickfergus and Ballymena councils. The party is fielding four candidates this year and is hoping to increase its representation in the chamber.

A party spokesperson said: “We’ve been campaigning hard in Ballymena town and our message of equality, rights and Irish unity has been well received. Sinn Fein believes those people who support those principles deserve better representation on Mid and East Antrim Council. Local residents will have their chance to make their voices heard on May 2.”

The PUP will be standing two representatives this year, Ukip will be fielding two candidates, one candidate is standing for the Green Party in Larne and the Democrats and Veterans Party will have one candidate in the Carrick Castle DEA.