CLAIRE Hanna points to the new constituency map of South Belfast and Mid Down. A much larger battleground than before following boundary changes, she says, however, that it’s only a ten per cent increase in population, taking in mostly rural parts of County Down that skirt the city. Then there are parts of her former South Belfast constituency – where she was elected MP for the first time in 2019 – which she has now lost by the redrawing of the electoral map.

From the familiar of Finaghy, Lisburn Road and Ormeau Road, the constituency now stretches south to the fertile fields around Saintfield.
“It makes re-election a little bit harder but those are the breaks,” she says, matter-of-factly, “but I’ve been enjoying picking up something new and I think that South Belfast is a state of mind as much as anything else. It’s kind of a community that has all the traditional elements of community where people can opt into and move into and become part of the community from wherever they are originally from. It changes it a little bit but it is substantially the same place.”
In 2019 Claire Hanna had a 15,401 majority over the DUP’s Emma Little Pengelly, receiving a whopping 27,079 votes. She says this is a different election but she is going forward on her record over the past five years.
“Especially in the 90 per cent of the constituency where I was already the MP people are used to seeing me on the doors, they know what I am about and they know that the service that they get from the office and they know the sort of issues and how I’m going to approach them and they know my values and as such I go into the election on my record with a degree of confidence but no-one should ever take anything for granted in politics. I think safe seats are a bit of a dent in democracy if people don’t feel that they have to be out working for votes all year round and throughout the mandate which is what I have done.”

The SDLP woman says the election campaign has been going “really well” with people on the doorsteps “switched on to it”.
“It’s a real privilege for people to open their doors,” she says, “and talk to you about what’s important in their lives and it’s quite meaningful for me to have those conversations.”
In a parliament where the Conservatives had such a huge majority and which was dominated by the out-workings of Brexit and open warfare within the Tory party, I ask her if it had been difficult to make herself heard above all the noise?
“The Tories could push things through and they did on Legacy but my goodness did we win the argument and I think all right thinking people, every political party on this island, every respected academic, people in the legal and justice world were able to see what was right and what was wrong. But a big thumping majority helped them to stomp around the place and stomp on this region but I believe that we were able to push back on some of the worst elements."
Claire cites as a success during her time as MP as giving an alternative position from the DUP on Brexit, reminding people at Westminster that the North voted against Brexit and that the majority of people here did not adhere to the DUP position.
“I found myself able to be heard and we did ultimately after very, very many months of discussions get where we needed to be on pushing back – remember '22/23 Johnson and Truss were trying to repudiate the Protocol, they were trying to go back on the very hard fought concessions that we had worked very hard on keeping the border clear here.  And by being there and making an argument and by creating something that Labour and other opposition parties could rally around we pushed them back on their heels on that.”
Claire says that while Labour would traditionally have more of an attachment to the North of Ireland, if they do form the next government, the region will not be at the top of their list of priorities. Although the SDLP are a sister party of Labour, she says that over the last five years herself and Colum Eastwood have voted with Labour around 85 per cent of the time but have gone their separate ways on many issues, most notably Gaza.
Sinn Féin announced this month that they would not be contesting the South Belfast and Mid Down constituency. Was there a discussion within the SDLP about standing aside in North Belfast where Sinn Féin John Finucane is under pressure to retain the seat he won five years ago?
She said the SDLP is a party that is rebuilding in every constituency and is also in opposition at Stormont.

"We are supporters of tactical voting," she said. "I know many people who normally vote Sinn Féin or normally vote Greens or normally vote Alliance who voted for me in the other election and I’ve been speaking to them for months about asking them to do the same again.
“It is now up to seven constituencies that people say we should be standing aside in but for any party that is difficult to say to nearly half the population of the region we are not going to give you an opportunity to vote when we are trying to rebuild our relationship with you and rebuild our trust with you, but we are aware that tactical voting is a reality and first past the post is a very flawed system.”
Looking ahead to the day after the election, she says success for the SDLP would be to hold the two seats the party won in 2019, and maybe, just maybe, taking South Down which they lost out on by 1,600 to Sinn Féin last time out.

The general election takes place on July 4.