Election 2015 Northern Ireland

Election 2015: Poster war in key battleground of South Belfast

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Media captionA battle is on for the votes of people in leafy South Belfast, as BBC News NI Political Correspondent Stephen Walker reports

South Belfast is a key battleground in the general election.

It was won in 2010 by the SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell who had a 6,000 vote majority.

However, his challengers say he can be toppled.

If election campaigns were based on the number of posters on the streets, then Mr McDonnell would be well ahead in the constituency.

The SDLP team has covered the area in hundreds of pictures of its party leader.

Other candidates have followed suit and, in certain parts of this constituency, there is not a lamp post free of party literature.

Mr McDonnell is a veteran of election campaigns and is defending the seat he won back in 2005 when he became the first nationalist to win the constituency.

Image caption Mr McDonnell is defending the seat he won back in 2005

The former GP retained it in 2010 when he topped the poll with 14,026 votes.

In that election, Sinn Féin decided to withdraw their candidate and Mr McDonnell was about 6,000 votes ahead of his nearest rival, the DUP's Jimmy Spratt.

This time the battleground in South Belfast is very different.

Sinn Féin offered an electoral pact with the SDLP but that was rejected so Sinn Fein have selected Máirtín Ó Muilleor, a former Belfast mayor, to challenge Mr McDonnell.

Mr Ó Muilleor topped the polled in the Balmoral electoral area during last year's local government election in Belfast.

Image caption Máirtín Ó Muilleor is fighting to become the South Belfast MP

He is convinced he can beat the SDLP leader.

He told the BBC: "I topped the poll last year in this constituency.

"My colleague Deirdre Hargey topped the poll in Botanic. So I believe people will plump for the poll toppers.

"They believe Sinn Féin can deliver for South Belfast and we are going to do very well. We are certainly going to top the nationalist poll in this constituency."

Mr McDonnell accepts that Mr Ó Muilleor will take votes away from him and estimates that the Sinn Féin vote in the constituency is "around 4,000."

However, he insists he will win the seat and says his vote could be in the region of 10,000 - 11,000 votes.

He said he is attracting new voters and states that he is getting support from those who have backed him before.

He said: "I am fighting this election on my record. My record is good.

"People are telling me they appreciate all the work that has been done for them".

He added: "People don't want to lose the quality of the service and the substance of the service they have had over the last 10 years".

If the battle between the SDLP and Sinn Féin is key in this seat so, too is the contest within unionism.

The Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionists had discussions about running a joint candidate but ultimately they could not come to an arrangement so now both parties are standing in the constituency.

The DUP selected Jonathan Bell who is currently a junior minister in the Stormont Executive.

Image caption The DUP selected Jonathan Bell who is currently a junior minister in the executive

He says he is disappointed that there is not an agreed unionist candidate.

He said: "I think a lot of people wanted a single unionist candidate and they told me that on the doors, but there is no point crying over spilt milk. We tried to get it and we could not get it.

"So I think the general feeling is that the unionist people will vote for the unionist that can win. We are convincingly the largest party."

Image caption Rodney McCune who works as an adviser to the executive minister Danny Kennedy thinks the result in South Belfast will be very tight

Naturally the UUP candidate has a very different analysis.

Rodney McCune who works as an adviser to the executive minister Danny Kennedy thinks the result in South Belfast will be very tight.

He said: "I think that 9,000 to 10,000 votes may well be the winning total. It is also going to be small margin in terms of the victory I would suspect."

He said his party can triumph and recapture the seat they lost in 2005 when the Rev Martin Smyth stood down.

Mr McCune believes he can win.

"There is a real opportunity for an Ulster Unionist to be returned in South Belfast and, of course, Ulster Unionists are the only pro-union candidates who have ever represented this constituency at Westminster."

In the 2010 election in South Belfast, the Ulster Unionists polled 5,900 votes and their candidate was Paula Bradshaw.

This time Paula Bradshaw is standing under Alliance Party colours. She was elected last year to Belfast City Council as an Alliance councillor and hopes that her success can be repeated.

Image caption Paula Bradshaw is standing under Alliance Party colours

She said: "If people vote exactly as they did last year in local government election I have a very high chance. We are running neck and neck with the SDLP and DUP at 20% all round the South Belfast constituency."

Ms Bradshaw is one of nine hopefuls on the South Belfast ballot paper.

South Belfast is one of the most diverse constituencies in Northern Ireland with plenty of choice on offer.

Clare Bailey is running for the Green Party and Lily Kerr is standing for the Workers Party.

Ben Manton is the NI Conservative Party candidate and Bob Stoker, once an Ulster Unionist, is now running under the UKIP banner.

Their names jostle for position on lamp posts in all parts of this constituency.

In the battle for Westminster the poster war in South Belfast is in full swing.

Image caption Still waters of the Lagan River contrast with the electoral battle on land