Northern Ireland Election 2016

NI Assembly election: Sinn Féin's 'high five' under threat in West Belfast?

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Media captionCan Sinn Fein retain its five seats in the West Belfast constituency in next month's Northern Ireland Assembly election?

In political terms West Belfast is Sinn Féin's version of a High Five.

Winning four seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly's six-seater constituencies is considered an achievement.

In West Belfast, Sinn Féin has won five twice in a row - a feat never before achieved anywhere and it wants the hat-trick.

However, it has got competition. Gerry Carroll is the new kid on the block.

The People Before Profit candidate was once banned by a judge from Belfast city centre for organising street protests against student cuts.

Now he sits on the city council.

Image caption Last year Gerry Carroll polled just shy of 7,000 votes at the general election

Last year he polled two votes shy of 7,000 at the general election and the other parties have as good as conceded that he is bound for the assembly.

He promises to "shake things up".

"The thing we hear on the doors constantly is people saying we need a different type of politics and I think that's what we offer," the 27-year-old said.

"We offer politics that is about people power and which is about standing up to the cutbacks which are going to devastate communities and especially devastate West Belfast with benefit cuts, job cuts and cuts across the public sector.

"So our message really is whether you're from the Falls Road or the Shankill Road, whatever part of West Belfast you're from, that type of politics brings people together."

But whose place is he likely to take?

Image caption Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan said the fifth seat would always be on a knife-edge

Pat Sheehan won Sinn Fein's fifth seat last time. He says the canvass is going well and he is conceding nothing to Mr Carroll or anyone else.

"This is one of our strongest areas, not just in the north but right across Ireland," the former republican prisoner said.

"The fact that we hold five seats in the constituency is testimony to the level of support that exists within the constituency. But being realistic, the fifth seat will always be on a knife-edge, even on a good day we might possibly lose it.

"It depends a lot on vote management, on luck and on getting our voters out on the day and that's what our aim will be."

The other seat which could be in jeopardy belongs to the SDLP's Alex Attwood.

Image caption Alex Attwood is the only SDLP candidate standing in the election

The SDLP used to be quite a big deal in these parts. Now the party is reduced to running a single candidate and Mr Attwood knows even that carries no guarantees.

"The pressure for the SDLP is to get our good vote out, to ensure there is a strong SDLP voice for this constituency in the assembly and critically in the negotiations that will define the life of the next five years of the assembly which start in the middle of May, where the SDLP, and not independents, will be in the room for the people of West Belfast and for the protection of public services."

All of this excludes the area's unionists. But the constituency contains a sizeable chunk of the unionist heartland of the Shankill and something is stirring there too.

In fact, the Democratic Unionist Party is putting such a big effort into winning back the seat it last took 13 years ago that the party held its manifesto launch in the area.

Image caption The DUP's Frank McCoubrey said he wants to win a seat back for unionists

Its candidate is tailor-made. Frank McCoubrey used to be a member of the small Ulster Democratic Party which had links to the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

He is hoping he can tap into the loyalist working class vote in a way the DUP has not always managed.

It is a big ask - especially with the Ulster Unionists running a candidate too, Gareth Martin - but not an impossible one according to Mr McCoubrey.

"It's a goal of the party to win West Belfast," he said.

"We want to take back, quite rightly, what belongs to unionists.

"I think Sinn Féin have had a stranglehold on West Belfast for nearly 30 years and its quite clear that they haven't delivered so I'm the candidate, the leading candidate for unionist parties, and I want to win back West Belfast."

Candidates for West Belfast:

Alex Attwood, SDLP

Conor Campbell, Workers Party

Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit Alliance

Jemima Higgins, Alliance Party

Gareth Martin, UUP,

Alex Maskey, Sinn Féin

Fra McCann, Sinn Féin

Jennifer McCann, Sinn Féin

Rosie McCorley, Sinn Féin

Frank McCoubrey, DUP

Ellen Murray, Green Party

Pat Sheehan, Sinn Féin

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