16 April 2005

Daily Ireland

Robinson as safe as houses



From the rolling Castlereagh Hills at one end, to the sprawling glass-fronted development of Belfast’s Laganside at the other, the parliamentary constituency of East Belfast has been represented by the same MP for 26 years.
Despite his stranglehold, however, the DUP’s 56-year-old Peter Robinson doesn’t quite have an overall majority – which, in itself, indicates the diverse nature of the area.
East Belfast may have lost its beachhead of anti-Catholic discrimination with the demise of the Harland and Wolff shipyard but it is dotted with wealthy districts populated by unionist civil servants, top judges and senior PSNI members, and it boasts Belfast City Airport, the Stormont Castle estate, the Titanic Quarter and the PSNI’s Knock headquarters among its key landmarks.
However, significant areas of loyalist and republican working class deprivation also blight the constituency.
Despite firm support within the unionist community from his constituency activism, Mr Robinson still fails to secure the confidence of the republican enclave of Short Strand.
A reputedly hardline politician, as the DUP’s deputy leader Mr Robinson has long played second-fiddle to the towering leadership of Ian Paisley.
But it is the deputy leader of the UUP, Reg Empey, who once again looks most likely to take second place in the forthcoming parliamentary contest.
Speaking yesterday Mr Robinson said his electoral objective is about focusing “on the threat to democracy” posed by Sinn Féin.
“It is clear that only the DUP can defeat Sinn Féin and ensure that republicans do not top the poll in Northern Ireland,” Mr Robinson said.
Concentrating directly on constituency matters, the UUP’s Reg Empey called for an urgent regeneration plan in East Belfast – particularly inner city areas.
“We’re the only part of Belfast where there are large tracts of land which are suitable for housing but which have not yet been built upon, despite growing demand for social housing,” Mr Empey said.
He also hinted that some revised form of Assembly structure – excluding Sinn Féin – could be established after the elections.
With good tactical voting and the bounce of a nine per cent rise in the 2003 Assembly elections he still argues he could take the seat.
One candidate who admits she won’t be elected is Sinn Féin’s Deborah Devenny. But the prominent Short Strand community worker said that her campaign must be seen as part of Sinn Féin’s overall “winning team” strategy.
“People need to remember that they’re voting for the only nationalist party who will work consistently to deliver a lasting peace and that this will involve fresh negotiations in the near future where republicans need a strong mandate,” Ms Devenny said.
SDLP candidate Mary Muldoon said that her campaign is focused specifically on “trying to bring communities together”.
“The key issue in East Belfast is Robinson has been there for a long time and I think it’s time he got a bit of a bloody nose – metaphorically speaking, of course,” Ms Muldoon said.
Another candidate building bridges in this election is the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long.
A serving Belfast city councillor, Ms Long said if “people can get a single candidate behind which they can unite, then Peter Robinson could be beaten.
“I believe that as a representative of the Alliance Party, we have the only opportunity for constituents from across the community to unite in opposition to the divisive politics the DUP represent,” Ms Long said.
Unlike previous elections, the PUP’s long-serving and popular leader David Ervine is not contesting East Belfast.
However, his 3,000 votes are unlikely to swing the outcome away from Peter Robinson.






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