UK General Election 2024: What it means for Northern Ireland

Against a backdrop of thundering rain and a protestor loudly blasting out Labour’s 1997 campaign theme tune [by our very own D:Ream] leading to the inevitable media headlines of “Things Can Only Get Wetter”, the UK’s long awaited General Election has been called.

With campaigning now officially underway its worth reflecting on what impact this can all have on Northern Ireland.

In order to secure the keys to Number 10, the leader of the largest party will need to secure 326 MPs or more to be able to command a majority in the House of Commons. Northern Ireland has 18 constituencies – the same number used for the NI Assembly elections – and this will be the first test of public opinion since the restoration of the NI Executive and Assembly in February this year.

As Labour and the Liberal Democrats don’t field candidates in Northern Ireland, and with the Conservative Party candidates historically not performing well in elections locally, it’s unlikely that local votes will impact on the formation of the next UK Government.

As things stand, Labour holds a commanding lead in the opinion polls and has done since 2022. If this is reflected at the ballot box then Sir Keir Starmer will be asked to form the next Government, returning his party to power after 14 years in Opposition.  

However, if the polls were to be incorrect, or if Labour was to suffer a dramatic drop of support as can happen during election campaigns, it’s not beyond possibility that Rishi Sunak could defy expectations and provide the Conservatives with a record fifth term in office. It is worth noting that Theresa May began the 2017 General Election with a lead of over 20% in the polls but after a chaotic campaign lost the Conservative’s majority and had to rely on the 10 DUP MPs in a confidence and supply arrangement that lasted until 2019. Campaigns therefore matter enormously.

A lot has changed since 2017, including the pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, a cost-of-living crisis, three Prime Ministers, the suspensions of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, and more latterly Michelle O’Neill becoming Sinn Féin’s inaugural First Minister with the DUP’s Emma Little Pengelly in the role of deputy First Minister.

How does this all impact Northern Ireland? With taxation and fiscal policy remaining with HM Treasury that sets our annual allocation of budget for Stormont to spend, it matters a great deal. With decisions still to be made on support for Harland and Wolff, the review of the funding model for Northern Ireland’s block grant, and the continued design of future agricultural policy and replacement funding post EU-exit, the make-up of the next UK Government will have a big impact on the public purse in Northern Ireland.

For the duration of the campaign, we will enter a period of ‘purdah’ which means that our local Executive Ministers being unable to make major policy or funding announcements that could be seen to be influencing the election campaign.

The NI Executive will remain in place – with the exception of the current Health Minister Robin Swann stepping down to run in South Antrim (and due to be replaced by former UUP Leader Mike Nesbitt).

This will be the first opportunity voters have had to give their views on the return of the NI Executive and Assembly. The TUV has said it plans to challenge the DUP in every constituency as it opposes the DUP’s return to power sharing and rejects the new arrangements set out in the UK Government’s Command Paper: Safeguarding the Union. If the TUV performs strongly it could potentially lead for calls for the DUP to review its role in the Executive – so these elections are hugely important and could have a significant impact on NI.

Although not a single vote has been cast, we do know there will be new local faces arriving in Parliament as some of NI’s most experienced MPs have announced they do not plan to contest the election, including the former DUP leader and MP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley), along with Sinn Féin’s Francie Molloy (Mid Ulster) and Mickey Brady (Newry & Armagh). With Michelle Gildernew (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) also standing for the EU elections in ROI – it’s not impossible that she will continue to stand for Westminster, but this will be interesting to watch.

At the last election the DUP returned 8 MPs (one is now an Independent), Sinn Féin returned 7 MPs, 2 for the SDLP and 1 for Alliance.

We have taken a look at each of the constituencies and set out our thoughts as to where things stand at the very start of the campaign.

Constituency overview:

Antrim East

  • DUP veteran Sammy Wilson will be defending the seat he has held for nearly 20 years against an insurgent Danny Donnelly of the Alliance Party. Although Wilson has a high profile and a healthy majority, the performance of the TUV candidate may prove crucial in this constituency, especially if Jim Allister stands – as has been rumoured in the media.

Antrim North

  • Another DUP veteran, Ian Paisley will be seeking to hold the seat he captured in 2010 following his father’s retirement. For the last 54 years North Antrim has been represented by an MP called Ian Paisley and its unlikely to see this changing. The performance of the Alliance Party and the UUP without Robin Swann will be interesting to watch.

Antrim South

  • This will be a fascinating battle between incumbent MP Paul Girvan of the DUP, John Blair of the Alliance Party and perhaps the strongest challenger, Robin Swann, the UUP’s well-regarded Health Minister. Sinn Fein’s vote has also grown over recent elections.

Belfast East

  • Although the Alliance Party has yet to confirm if its leader, Naomi Long will be its candidate, she is likely to put up a strong challenge if she were to enter the ring again with the sitting MP and newly appointed interim leader of the DUP, Gavin Robinson. With a small majority and a TUV candidate in play this could be one to watch on election night.

Belfast North

  • Sinn Féin’s John Finucane dramatically won this seat from the DUP in 2019 and would enter the contest as the favourite, even if the SDLP stands this time – it stood aside previously in favour of Sinn Féin. The DUP’s candidate Phillip Brett is a popular and well-regarded local MLA that is expected to put up a strong fight and cannot be ruled out. The performance of Alliance will also be of note.

Belfast South & Mid Down

  • This could prove to be one of the most fascinating battles of the election as its possible to see a route to victory for 3, possibly 4 of the parties in NI’s most diverse and newest constituency – with Mid Down being added. The SDLP’s Claire Hanna won a massive majority in 2019 against the DUP however that was an anti-Brexit coalition that is unlikely to be in place again. If Sinn Féin stands its popular local MLA Deirdre Hargey (interim Economy Minister) it will make re-election more difficult for Hanna, but not impossible, it could also work in the favour of the DUP candidate (yet to be selected) – with Kate Nicholl of the Alliance Party at this stage – looking to be a strong challenger. The new additions to the constituency would be expected to benefit Alliance and the DUP. Claire Hanna has a high profile but will be fighting for every vote.

Belfast West

  • Sinn Féin’s Paul Maskey will almost certainly be re-elected with a thumping majority. The SDLP will be looking for signs of a growth of its vote in the hope of winning a future Assembly seat, and People Before Profit will be hoping to increase its share of the vote.

East Londonderry

  • The DUP’s Gregory Campbell has held this seat for 23 years and would be the favourite to retain it at this stage – however the growing level of support for Sinn Féin and the performance of a TUV candidate will be worth watching.

Fermanagh South Tyrone

  • Famously one of the most marginal constituencies, Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew was first elected in 2001 and briefly lost the seat (2015-17), however, as she is also a candidate for the EU Parliament in the ROI constituency of Irish midlands and North-West – due to be held on 7th June – this could prove to be a very interesting battle. Her longtime opponent, Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott will now be replaced by Diane Armstrong. If the DUP stands aside in her favour, it could be a battle to watch, especially if Michelle Gildernew is not the Sinn Féin candidate.


  • SDLP leader Colum Eastwood retook the party’s previous stronghold of Foyle from Sinn Féin in 2019 with a massive majority. However, the most recent results from the Local Government and Assembly elections indicate this could be a major battle of the campaign with Sinn Féin seeking to oust Eastwood and is likely to be target number one for them.

Lagan Valley

  • This is likely to be one of the highest profile battles of the night – although Alliance’s Sorcha Eastwood had previously been considered an outside bet for the seat, she is now likely to be viewed as a frontrunner. The DUP has yet to select its candidate with big names such as deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, Education Minister Paul Givan being rumoured along with Upper Bann’s Jonathan Buckley. The UUP’s Robbie Butler is well-liked and voter friendly and its not impossible that he could pull off an upset, however this is expected to be a titanic battle between the DUP and Alliance candidates.

Mid Ulster

  • The retirement of Francie Molloy will ensure there is a new MP for the constituency, however, Sinn Féin would remain the runaway favourites to retain the seat it has held since 1997.

Newry and Armagh

  • As with Mid Ulster, Sinn Féin’s incumbent Mickey Brady is due to step down with a replacement to be named, and again they would remain in pole position to secure the seat. The SDLP will be reviewing its performance to see if the issues with its local MLA have had an impact on its support and the UUP and TUV will be viewing the performance of the DUP in this border constituency following the return to Stormont.

North Down

  • Another fascinating constituency. The UUP has selected a high-profile candidate in Col. Tim Collins to stand against incumbent Stephen Farry, deputy leader of the Alliance Party. However, Farry’s biggest challenger is likely to be Alex Easton, the Independent MLA and former DUP candidate who is well-known and popular locally. If the DUP stands a candidate this will likely favour Alliance’s chances, however, if they and the TUV stand aside for Easton, it will make it a very interesting battle.

South Down

  • Sinn Féin’s Chris Hazzard captured this seat in 2017 from the SDLP and would be expected to retain it this time. The strength of the SDLP vote and the performance of the DUP, TUV and Alliance candidates will be of note to party managers, planning ahead to the next Assembly Elections.


  • The DUP’s Jim Shannon first won the seat in 2010 and has been returned with healthy majorities at every election since. Regarded for his work ethic he will be the firm favourite however faces a significant challenge from a growing Alliance Party and again faces the threat of a TUV candidate.

Upper Bann

  • The DUP’s Carla Lockhart took the seat in 2019 with a significant majority and has maintained a high profile over recent years. Despite a strong showing expected from Sinn Féin, she would be the favourite to be returned although the performance of the Alliance Party will be of interest as will that of UUP leader Doug Beattie – if he is the candidate.

West Tyrone

  • Sinn Féin’s Órfhlaith Begley will almost certainly remain as the firm favourite to hold this seat that the party has held since 2001.