BATTLE LINES DRAWN

Election sees 73 compete for council’s 40 seats

By Iain Gray

SEVENTY-THREE people are to battle for Ards and North Down’s 40 council seats next month.
The deadline for nominations ran out on Monday, with the full and final list of candidates for the May 18 poll published this week.
The headline bout is a straight battle between the DUP and Alliance to see who will be top dog, with the Democratic Unionists fielding 17 candidates against Alliance’s 16.
With those figures neither party could have an outright majority, but Alliance hope to build on a recent surge in its popularity, particularly in North Down, to become the largest party on the council.
It’s something of a gamble, as only three of Alliance’s 16 candidates have actually fought an election before; many familiar names from the 2019 ballot have either left the council for Stormont, or are bowing out of politics altogether.
The DUP is hungry to regain ground it has lost since the council was formed in 2015, aiming to restore the full complement of 17 councillors it was elected with back then.
The third biggest grouping comprises people with no party affiliation at all, as 11 independents are standing.
A handful of those are former DUP members who left the party over the last few years, and the Democratic Unionists are fielding rival candidates with the aim of getting those seats back.
Independents range from unionist hardliners to left-leaning activists, and include six incumbent councillors.
The UUP stand nine candidates, leaning more heavily on North Down areas, while the Greens field one candidate in each of the borough’s seven districts, including its three incumbents.
The TUV, which scored well on first preference votes in last year’s Stormont elections only to win few transfers, hopes to get across the line in six districts – and in one of them, Comber, is trying to defeat an incumbent who quit the party three months ago to go independent after he was accused of harassment.
The SDLP will stand three candidates, including veteran Ards peninsula councillor Joe Boyle.
Hoping to get on the council are the Conservatives, who are entering battle in three North Down districts, and – in a surprise move – Sinn Féin, which has put a former hurling star forward on the Ards peninsula ballot.
Ards and North Down is the only part of Northern Ireland that doesn’t have a Sinn Féin councillor, but their man will face a tough fight against a popular SDLP incumbent while the DUP attempts to gain an extra seat in the district by fielding four candidates.
Bangor Central is, as usual, the most competitive area, with 12 people vying for its six seats; meanwhile, the Holywood and Clandeboye and Comber districts have the fewest candidates, with nine people standing in each.
Bangor West also looks like a bruiser of a bout, with 11 candidates fighting for the area’s five seats.
One wrinkle comes as three of the borough’s longest-running councillors – the UUP’s Marion Smith and Angus Carson, as well as DUP man Robert Gibson – are retiring from the local authority.
All reliable vote-winners, each has been replaced on the ballot by a complete newcomer who faces the tough task of holding the seat for their party.
But with battle lines drawn, it’s now all to play for when the borough heads to the polls in three weeks’ time.