Northern Ireland Election 2016

NI Assembly election: Change guaranteed in South Belfast

South Belfast
Image caption None of the candidates elected as MLAs for South Belfast in 2011 are contesting this election

Change is coming in South Belfast.

None of the candidates elected as MLAs in 2011 are contesting this election, so on 5 May voters will select six new politicians to fight their corner.

This assembly election marks the end of a number of high profile careers.

The Alliance Party's Anna Lo topped the poll at the last election, but she is standing down, as is former health minister Michael McGimpsey of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Jimmy Spratt of the DUP, Alasdair McDonnell and Conall McDevitt of the SDLP and Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey are also missing from the South Belfast ballot paper.

Image caption The seat is home to many different cultures and nationalities

The seat, which is home to many different cultures and nationalities, is one of the most diverse places in Northern Ireland and parties have to reach out beyond their traditional heartlands.

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who was co-opted as an MLA in the last assembly, is standing for Sinn Féin.

"You need to make sure you chase the Bangledeshi vote, the Muslim vote , the Roma vote, you need to make sure you are going after republicans and nationalists," Mr Ó Muilleoir told the BBC.

"But also the peacemakers and bridge builders who often surprise you."

While Sinn Fein is hoping for a single seat, the SDLP wants to retain two.

Image caption Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said candidates had to reach out to all sections of the community

Claire Hanna and Fearghal McKinney were co-opted MLAs in the last assembly and are both hopeful of being returned in May.

However, Ms Hanna accepts her party has a fight on its hands.

"For the last four elections people have written off our second seat and we have always come home with it, and that is what we intend to do this time as well," she said.

"Of course I feel the pressure, nothing is taken for granted in electoral politics. It will be very tight to hold the SDLP's two seats. It is a very diverse very crowded field, but hold them is what we intend to do."

The Alliance Party also has two seats in its sights and is running Duncan Morrow and Paula Bradshaw, who admits Anna Lo will be a hard act to follow.

"Anna was an incredible MLA for South Belfast, she really put Alliance on the map," she said.

Image caption The SDLP's Claire Hanna said her party could hold its two seats

"Our Westminster result last year demonstrated that there is a very strong core Alliance vote here. We are sitting on a very impressive core vote and we are hoping to expand that for this election going forward."

There is a battle within unionism in South Belfast.

Emma Little Pengelly and Christopher Stalford are hoping to win two seats for the DUP.

Mrs Little Pengelly, who was co-opted to replace Jimmy Spratt at Stormont, maintains the election is about who leads Northern Ireland.

"The DUP are going into this election with a key message," she said.

"If you want Arlene Foster as first minister, then support Arlene Foster's candidates of the Democratic Unionist Party and I hope the combination of the hard work that I have done and being out in the constituency, that will make that a very easy choice for people."

Image caption Alliance hopes to secure two seats in the constituency

However, those in the Ulster Unionist camp say the election is about more than who should be first minister.

"What I hear back from the doorsteps is people have got tired of that argument," the UUP's Rodney McCune said.

"They see it as a joint office in law, in fact, when both have a veto on each other and the reality is some people have said to me who cares what side of the bed they are sleeping on.

"It is whether or not the last nine years of DUP/Sinn Féin rule has been effective."

There are other unionists in the race, including Ruth Patterson who once ran for Stormont in DUP colours and came close to being elected in 2011. She left the DUP and is now standing as an independent.

She denies any suggestion that she is splitting the unionist vote.

"In a PR election you simply can't split the vote. That is the DUP's version of Project Fear," she said.

Image caption Emma Little Pengelly

The battle for seats in this constituency is intense and the issues are a mix of local and wider concerns. Candidates say voters have so far brought forward worries over childcare places, crime, transport, jobs, parking and the cost of housing.

While the final make-up of the seats is unclear in South Belfast, one thing is certain - voters here are about to elect six MLAs they have never sent to Stormont before.

Confirmed candidates for South Belfast constituency:

Brigitte Anton, Independent

Clare Bailey, Green Party

Paula Bradshaw, Alliance Party

Sean Burns, Labour Alternative

William Dickson, South Belfast Unionists

Claire Hanna, SDLP

John Hiddleston, Traditional Unionist Voice

Lily Kerr, Workers' Party

Emma Little Pengelly, DUP

Ben Manton, NI Conservatives

Fearghal McKinney, SDLP

Duncan Morrow, Alliance Party

Rodney McCune, Ulster Unionist Party

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Sinn Féin

Ruth Patterson, Independent

Ian Shanks, Progressive Unionist Party

Christopher Stalford, DUP

Bob Stoker, UKIP

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