Gary Hynds is the Deputy Chairman (Political) for the Conservative & Unionist Party in Northern Ireland  and a council candidate for Lisburn North.

Campaigning in Northern Ireland for the local elections on May 2nd is well underway, in a part of the United Kingdom where people are extremely disillusioned with politics in general. Not just due to the ongoing Brexit saga, but also due to the fact that we have had no devolved government at Stormont now for over two years.

I myself have been knocking on doors for almost a year now, and can confidently say that a feeling of voter exasperation is very much in place. As a relatively small party in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK, this therefore should result in an opportunity for us to make ground as an alternative for people in Northern Ireland. We are standing eight candidates in total. One of them being our sitting councillor, David Harding, in Coleraine, Two of us  (including myself) are standing in Lagan Valley and five of us in the North Down area.

Of course, this is a small amount considering the seats up for grabs, but we are working very hard in these selected areas and do hope we can make some sort of electoral breakthrough. I myself can certainly feel that there is very much an appetite from people for something different. After all, these are people who have given the five main parties in Northern Ireland 20 years – and a devolved government shut for over two years now is a damning indictment on them all.

Can we make the breakthrough as a party in Northern Ireland?

It will all depend on turnout. Can we convince those who are totally fed up to come out and vote for something different? Or will they simply just not vote at all, resulting in the main parties being largely returned due to their core vote, who vote no matter what? As a Party we simply must become the alternative that people in Northern Ireland are crying out for; I really feel it is our duty to be there as a credible alternative when the people of our country clearly need it. It is why I have been knocking doors for months on end now in Lisburn North, an area I have lived my entire life, showing them that I and our party really are a real alternative in the area. I know that the other seven guys are doing the same, trying to work on their personal votes and gain other voters who want to change their vote due to being entirely fed up with 20 years of failure by the elected parties here. As it is an STV election, it should be a good opportunity for people to vote for alternative candidates, since they can give their number one vote to a new person, then give their second, third, etc to their usual candidates, safe in the knowledge that if the new person they vote for doesn’t get elected, their vote will transfer to their next preferred candidate and not be lost.

We have a totally new leadership team in Northern Ireland, with Neil Johnston as Chairman, myself as Deputy Chairman (Political) and Adam Moore as Deputy Chairman (Membership). These changes came in just two months ago, so it is relatively still fresh, and probably too soon to have much of an effect on this election in a direct way. However we have a very positive outlook and are extremely determined to build ourselves into that credible alternative needed throughout Northern Ireland, and bring electoral success to the party here.

Not only will electoral success in Northern Ireland be a great thing for the party, but more importantly, it will be a great thing for Northern Ireland. As I have said above, the public here are crying out for an alternative; we really can be it. The task is to start by getting people elected in this election on May 2nd, then work damn hard to show people there really is an alternative worth voting for. More support from the party centrally would of course always be very welcome, and we must thank those in the voluntary party who support us a lot, but we also acknowledge that we must give the party signs of hope that we can actually be successful in this part of the United Kingdom. A huge job lies ahead for the new leadership team here, but also a huge opportunity. I think I speak for all three of us when I say we relish it and will do absolutely everything to make it a success.

No matter what happens on May 2nd, the Conservative & Unionist Party is here to stay in Northern Ireland, with an absolute determination to make breakthroughs that are very much worth fighting for.