Constituency Reports (Part 1)

Faha’s analysis of the first 9 constituencies for the May elections. We were awaiting publication of the latest electorate statistics due to be published yesterday but these have not materialised so here goes: Part two will follow shortly looking at the greater Belfast area – BD

This is my analysis of next week’s Assembly election. I have included the demographics of the voting age population for each constituency as well as election results going back to at least the 2010 Westminster election. In some constituencies I have included demographic information from the 2001 census or election results further back than 2010.   This analysis is for the 9 constituencies outside of the Belfast area.

              Mid Ulster

Faha Mid Ulster


Mid Ulster is the most predictable of all the constituencies. Since there are 3 SF candidates and 1 SDLP candidate there will be 4 nationalist MLA’s elected as the total nationalist vote is far above 4 quotas. The total unionist vote also far exceeds 2 quotas. The vote is likely to be similar to the 2014 District Council results and with those results the 3 SF, 1 SDLP and 1 UUP candidates could all be elected on the 1st count. One of the 2 DUP candidates will also be elected on a subsequent count. The only thing to watch for here is to see if the nationalist vote increases to its share of the electorate population. The unionist vote has been over 35% recently and the electorate numbers suggest it would be only 32% if nationalist turnout equaled unionized turnout.


West Tyrone

Faha West tyrone.JPG

In West Tyrone there are 4 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP and 2 DUP candidates. This election has become complicated due to a SF councilor, Sorcha McAnespy, resigning from the party to stand as an independent based in Omagh Town. Shortly after her decision, 2 SDLP councilors. Dr. Josephine Deehan and Patsy Kelly, also resigned from the SDLP and will stand as independents based in Omagh Town and Strabane Town respectively. There are also 7 other candidates from the Alliance, Green and minor parties and other independents standing. Despite the plethora of candidates the recent election results from 2014 and 2015 give a good indication of the results in this election. SF have been slightly above 3 quotas in the 2014 Council and 2015 Westminster elections. While Sorcha McAnespy will receive enough votes to lower that slightly SF should still elect 3 with her transfers and transfers from the minor party candidates. The DUP are standing 2 candidates but it is not possible to elect 2 as the UUP were above a quota in the 2015 Westminster election and just short of a quota in the 2014 Council elections. The fact that the UUP is opposed to Brexit will also help them with unionist farmers.

The situation is more complicated for the SDLP. The SDLP vote was 16.67% in Westminster in 2015 and with transfers from Alliance, Green and independents their vote in a STV election would have been approximately 19% which is well above a quota. It is not clear how much of the 1st preference SDLP vote will go to the 2 former SDLP councilors. Josephine Deehan will probably be the stronger of the 2 and it is possible that Daniel McCrossan will have less than a quota on the 1st count. Nevertheless he will still receive transfers from Alliance, Green and other minor candidates so he should be elected.

I included the results of the 2001 Westminster election to illustrate an important point. The SF vote declined by 3,000 from the 2001 election to the 2015 election. The SDLP vote also declined by 7,500. It is a myth that the SDLP voters have defected to SF. The vote of both parties is down by almost 11,000 compared to 2001 but many more SDLP voters are staying home compared to SF voters. You will also notice that the Catholic electorate has increased by 8,000 since 2001 but despite that large increase the total nationalist vote has collapsed. Turnout was 85% in 2001 but only 50% in 2015. In contrast there has been little decline in the unionist vote, only 1,600 since 2001. The unionist electorate has increased by only 1,600 since that time compared to the nationalist increase of 8,000. Unionist turnout was 75% in 2001 in 2001 but has only declined to 60%. It would require a nationalist turnout of 67% to elect a 5th nationalist MLA (either SF or an independent). Brexit could motivate an increased nationalist turnout as a hard border with Donegal is undesirable from a nationalist viewpoint but I doubt that it would increase to a level that high to elect a 5th nationalist MLA.


East Derry

Faha East derry.JPG

This constituency is likely to have some changes compared to 2011. If you look at the 2014 Council results the DUP is at 26.7% which is 2% less than 2 quotas. The UUP was at 17.6% which is 3.3% over a quota. The TUV received 9% with another 4% going to UKIP and the PUP. Since all those parties are competing for the Assembly election it appears that the DUP will elect 2 with 1 for the UUP and 1 for the TUV. The TUV are likely to receive the majority of the UKIP and PUP transfers and should be at 12% at some point in the count. Claire Sugden is standing as an independent but it is likely that many of her transfers will go to the UUP so 1 UUP should be elected.

The nationalist vote is straightforward. The SDLP have only 1 candidate and their vote was above a quota in 2014 so he should be elected. SF are standing 2 but are far short of 2 quotas. However, excluding the Others and None’s the religious background in 2016 is 43% Catholic and 57% Protestant. So theoretically there could be 3 nationalist quotas. This will not occur for several reasons. The main reason is that the nationalist turnout is much lower than the unionist turnout. The Catholic community electorate has increased by almost 6,000 since 2001 but the Protestant community electorate has increased by less than 2,000. Despite the large increase in the potential nationalist electorate the combined SF-SDLP vote is down over 4,000 within the current boundaries in 2015 compared to 1998. The combined unionist vote is down by approximately the same amount. In 2015 unionist turnout was 50% and nationalist turnout only 36%. In the Coleraine, Portrush, Portstewart and Limavady Town areas nationalist turnout was only 25%. That is a level only seen with organized election boycotts. SF has little presence in the urban Coleraine region and did not even have a council candidate for the Causeway DEA in 2014. Also the 2nd SF candidate would be dependent on Alliance transfers for election and few of those will transfer to SF although it is also true that few would transfer to the TUV.

Unfortunately nationalist voter apathy will result in a seat for the TUV. I hope the TUV candidate has the courtesy to thank the stay at home nationalist voters for his election.


Fermanagh South Tyrone


This constituency has the highest voter turnout of any. It is difficult to predict whether the DUP or UUP will win 2 seats. There are 3 factors that favour 2 for the UUP. In the 2014 Council election the UUP vote exceeded the DUP vote by over 6%. The UUP would also receive some Alliance transfers adding to their total. The UUP stood as the unionist unity candidate in 2015 and some votes lent by the DUP for that election may not return to the DUP. However, the DUP have one major factor in their favour and her name is Arlene Foster. Since she is now the leader of the DUP and probably the new First Minister at Stormont she will have a very high 1st preference vote. This could work against the DUP since if she is far above a quota the UUP could receive some of her transfers. If the UUP candidates are evenly balanced they could also win 2 even if the combined UUP vote is slightly less than the DUP vote.

On the nationalist side it is unlikely that SF will win 3. If you look at the 2014 Council vote the SDLP received 12.54% and after Alliance and Green transfers would be only 1% short of a quota. In the 2011 election the SDLP also received a few UUP transfers so they would be just shy of a quota. SF only received 32.14% in 2014 with 8% going to independent Republicans. It is unlikely that all of that 8% would go to SF. Even if they all vote SF the SF total would be 40% and they would be 3% short of 3 quotas. The only way that SF can elect 3 is by a higher nationalist turnout. In 2015 the unionist turnout was 75% and the nationalist turnout was less than 60%. Excluding the Others and None’s the religious breakdown is 59.2% Catholic and 40.8% Protestant. If the turnouts were equal there would be 4 nationalist quotas with another 2% to spare. That translates to an additional 4,500 nationalist voters. Are there any factors that could increase nationalist turnout? The first factor is that there is a large group of voters who were not eligible to vote in the Westminster election. These are EU nationals and there are currently 3,500  who are on the Fermanagh South Tyrone electoral register. These voters are very concerned about the Brexit referendum since a vote in June in favour of Brexit would seriously jeopardize their status in Northern Ireland. The possibility of loss of one’s job and potential deportation would be a strong motivation to vote. They are not eligible to vote in the Brexit referendum but can vote for pro EU parties in the Assembly election. If 2,500 of these voters voted for SF or the SDLP then the number needed to elect 4 nationalist MLA’s would be reduced to only 2,000. That 2,000 is still a large number but the possibility of restricted border crossing with the Republic of Ireland might motivate some native nationalist voters to vote also.



Faha Foyle

Foyle is unlikely to have any changes in this election. For years there has been speculation that SF could take 3 seats. Indeed, in the 2014 Council elections the SF vote exceeded the SDLP vote by 1.7%. However, for elections since 2005 the SF vote has been in the 31% to 34% range with no sign of a breakout from that level. There has also been speculation that Eamonn McCann or an independent such as Dr. Anne McCloskey could win a seat. This election is significant in that the leaders of both the nationalist parties are standing in the constituency.  The advantage of having a party leader contesting a constituency is that it may increase the total party vote. The disadvantage is that it can result in poor balancing, with the party leader far above a quota. In Foyle the presence of both Martin McGuiness and Colum Eastwood is likely to reduce the 1st preference vote for PBP and independents. I do not believe that SF, PBP or Anne McCloskey can take a seat from the SDLP. There is usually a unionist surplus of 6% and in 2011 80% of that surplus eventually ended up with SDLP candidates. The DUP have been attempting to increase unionist turnout by claiming that the unionist seat is under threat. This is aimed at unionist voters who do not understand the demographics of the constituency. It would require another 10,000 nationalist votes for the DUP to lose their seat, a scenario that will not occur. On the unionist side the only area of interest is the size of the UUP vote and that of the former DUP MLA Maurice Devenney.

Newry and Armagh

Faha N&A

There are 2 main contests here. The 1st is between SF and the SDLP and the 2nd is between the DUP and UUP with both the UUP and the SDLP hoping to pick up additional seats. In the 2011 election the SDLP lost the 2nd seat due to poor balancing and the lack of transfers. In the final count there was an undistributed SDLP surplus of 478 and the 2nd SDLP candidate lost by only 611. With proper balancing the 2nd candidate would have lost by only 133 votes. There was a UUP surplus of 857 but the majority did not give the SDLP any preference. There were also over 1,400 UKIP voters who gave no preference to the SDLP (it appears that less than 5% of those voters gave any preference to the SDLP). The SDLP vote improved marginally in 2015 compared to 2011 so this will be a very close contest for the 4th nationalist seat. It will depend on balancing among the candidates and transfers. There is also an independent republican, Martin McAllister standing who will take 1st preference votes from SF. Not all of his votes may transfer to SF. Another factor is that there are 3,000 EU nationals on the register who could not vote in the Westminster election. SF needs 60% of those to keep pace with the SDLP and those voters may well decide the outcome. Another issue is the pending Brexit referendum. Brexit would affect this constituency more than most and border restrictions would affect travel and trade. This may result in a higher nationalist turnout.

The UUP were shrewd in standing 2 candidates and I would give the edge to the UUP to elect 2 for several reasons. If you look at the 2014 Council results the UUP vote is almost twice the DUP vote. With Alliance and Green transfers it would be more than twice the DUP vote. The UUP were the Unity candidates in 2015 and not all of those DUP votes lent to the UUP may return to the DUP. Paul Berry, previously of the DUP, is standing and will reduce the DUP 1st preference vote. His transfers may not all return to the DUP. The Brexit referendum will also affect the unionist vote. Since the UUP is opposed to Brexit and the DUP in favour of Brexit unionist farmers and other unionists opposed to Brexit may vote UUP.


South Down

Faha South Down

In the previous 6 constituencies I discussed there is no realistic possibility that a current unionist seat could be lost to a nationalist candidate. It is certainly possible that SF could take seats from the unionist bloc in East Derry and Fermanagh South Tyrone but it would take a massive increase in nationalist turnout that is unlikely to occur. This is the 1st constituency where there is a reasonable possibility that the SDLP could take one of the unionist seats. There have been major demographic changes in South Down since 2011 and census data and death rates indicate there is an increase of 3,400 voters from the Catholic community versus only 100 from the Protestant community. The demographic changes appear to be evident in the 2014 and 2015 elections. In 2014 SF was 1.2% above 2 quotas while the SDLP was 9% short of 3 quotas. The unionist bloc was 1% short of 2 quotas. There was a 9% vote for Alliance, Green and NI21 and independent nationalists and the unionist bloc could depend on at least 2% of those for transfers and end up with 1% over 2 quotas. The turnout for 2015 Westminster was much higher, on the level of an Assembly election, but there was some tactical unionist voting for the SDLP. I estimate the unionist vote would be 1,000 higher without the tactical voting. With that extra 1,000 and some Alliance transfers there would have been exactly 2 unionist quotas. 2016 should be very close. There are some factors that will affect the 2016 vote compared to 2015. There are 1,200 EU national voters who may vote in the Assembly election and with the pending Brexit referendum they may be motivated to vote for pro EU parties. The nature of the competition among unionist candidates also favours the SDLP for a 3rd seat. Jim McAllister the former UUP MLA and Harold McKee the new UUP candidate will be competing for the UUP type voters. One will be eliminated. If the UUP is eliminated first their voters may be reluctant to transfer to Jim McAllister since he abandoned the party. Some may transfer instead to the DUP, TUV or even SDLP or may not transfer to anyone. Henry Reilly will be a strong candidate for the TUV. He switched from UKIP to the TUV but there appear to be little in the way of hard feeling locally since UKIP decided not to contest South Down. Henry Reilly was only 1% behind the DUP in 2015 and could win a seat for the TUV here if Jim Wells is eliminated in the later counts. What may hurt Jim Wells in South Down are the cutbacks in services at Downe Hospital. Services at the hospital have been threatened and this has occurred when Edwin Poots and Jim Wells were the health ministers. Expect the last count to be very close between the 3rd SDLP candidate and a unionist.


Upper Bann

Faha Upper bann

This is one constituency where nationalist voter apathy is a major factor. In the 2011 Assembly election the 2nd SF candidate was only 400 votes behind the 2nd UUP candidate who was elected on the final count. What has happened since then? In 2015 the total nationalist vote actually declined compared to 2011 while the total unionist vote increased by 5,500. In 2015, unionist turnout was over 60% and nationalist turnout was only 40%. Since it unlikely that these additional unionist voters will stay home in 2016 the nationalist vote would need to increase by 5,000 in order to reach 3 quotas. On paper, there should be 3 nationalist seats. Excluding the Others and None’s the Catholic electorate is 46.5% and the Protestant electorate in 53.5%. Between 2011 and 2016 the Catholic community electorate has increased by 2,300 while the Protestant community electorate has increased by only 300. Clearly the potential nationalist vote with equal turnout is far above 3 quotas (42.9%). I doubt that the SDLP will lose a seat here. In the 2014 Council elections the SDLP vote was 12.3% and with Alliance and NI21 transfers would have exceeded a quota of 14.3%.  SF is far from 2 quotas. Is there any way SF can find an additional 5,000 nationalist voters? Upper Bann does have over 4,500 EU nationals on the electoral register and these voters should be motivated to vote for pro EU parties in view of the pending Brexit referendum. Whether SF and the SDLP will even attempt to target and canvass these voters is unknown. If even half voted then SF would still need an additional 2,500 native nationalist voters to win a 2nd seat.

North Antrim

Faha North antrim

North Antrim would be the most likely constituency where there could be a unionist loss, in this case to the SDLP. If you look at the 2011 election Declan O’Loan of the SDLP lost to Jim Allister of the TUV by 600 votes in the last count. In 2016 there are several factors in favour of the SDLP and one factor against the SDLP. The demographic changes over the past 5 years indicate a 1,500 increase in the Catholic electorate versus an 800 increase in the Protestant electorate. If half of those voters vote the gap would only 300 votes. There are also Green and Labour candidates in 2016 which may draw out a few more voters that could transfer to the SDLP. Finally, there is a change in the nature of the unionist vote in 2016. In 2011, the UUP received 600 Alliance transfers which were needed to elect the UUP candidate. In the 2014 Council election the UUP vote was 16.7% which is above a quota so those Alliance transfers will end up with their 3rd preference, some of which will be SDLP rather than DUP or TUV. On the other hand there is one major factor favouring unionist candidates in 2016. In 2011, Evelynne Robinson of the DUP was eliminated at stage 8 but 766 of her votes did not transfer to the remaining DUP candidate nor any other candidate. This is unusual and is unlikely to recur in 2016. In the end there should be 1 SF, 1 UUP, 2 DUP and 1 TUV candidate elected with the last seat to be won by either the SDLP or the remaining unionist candidate (either DUP or TUV). This is one constituency where the pending Brexit referendum may determine the outcome. There are 2,000 EU nationals on the electoral register most of whom were not registered in 2011. If they vote for the SDLP in significant numbers they could defeat a pro Brexit TUV or DUP candidate.

The Saturday Night Treatment

I once had an interesting conversation with a certain prominent journalist from this part of the world regarding the experiences of nationalists in times past.

He told me an intriguing story about how it became a regular occurrence outside his local “Chapel” or Church, as I would have it, that every Saturday evening, right on the clock as 7pm Mass was about to commence, the local loyalist bands would deign it suitable to parade the road outside with as much volume and venom as they could muster.

He called it “The Saturday night treatment”.

Nationalists in the north east of this Country may be familiar with this type of behaviour. I was not. At least not until I witnessed antics such as their behaviour in Belfast in recent years.

Happily living in tolerant, open minded Bangor for the last ten years or so, things seem very civilised on that front. Although the town is, on paper, only 15% nationalist leaning, things are open enough to allow room for the usual 12 July Orange parades, An annual childrens Easter parade and, this year, the Ulster Fleadh.

That, surely, is how it should be, although I believe there is work to be done still, such as a St Patricks day parade. (Perhaps that is one for another day)

Many have lauded the work done in Derry over recent years regarding accommodation for loyalist parading. Perhaps the local agreements in Bangor regarding parading past sensitive places should also be recognised and praised? These have been achieved at a local level, quietly, and without political fanfare.

North Down Canvass

SF Canvass in Bangor

Meanwhile there are encouraging signs of North Down being taken seriously at last by Nationalist Parties. Sinn Fein have begun canvassing Bangor for the first time ever and Posters and Leafletting are evident which I must say is a first experience for me.

I would expect very little electoral impact for the May elections but green shoots are evident and this bodes well for the future.

It is noticable from the comments on this blog that there is a substantial nationalist constituency that feels disenfranchised, particularly those with strong religious/social convictions and, perhaps, those with a right of centre viewpoint. There is a gap in the market here and I suspect that Fianna Fail may be eyeing it up.

Prior to the elections, Faha is preparing some detailed analysis which will be published here in due course



Assembly Election 2016 -The Numbers Game

The May 5th Assembly election is less than 5 weeks away. This a review of previous elections since 2003. I have looked at the raw vote for unionist, nationalist and nonsectarian parties and have plotted the changes over time in the various elections.

I have also calculated voter turnout from the Catholic and Protestant voting age population for each election.

Voters 2003 to 2016

If you look at the first set of data the religious background of the voting age population is shown for the 2001 and 2011 census. The 2001 census is relatively straightforward in that the group of None/Other was only 2% of the voting age population and probably only 1% of actual voters.

Polls have consistently shown that the None/Other group vote at a much lower rate than those from the Protestant and Catholic community background. The 2011 census is more complicated. There were 60,000 more foreign nationals in the 2011 census compared to 2001.

The Protestant voting age population increased by 9,000 but this was entirely due to foreign nationals (Eastern Orthodox and Protestants from other immigrant nationalities). The Catholic voting age population increased by 93,000 but 30,000 of this increase was due to foreign nationals. There was also a large increase in the Other/None group to 71,000 but over 20,000 of those were also foreign nationals.

The potential unionist electorate did increase from 2001 to 2011 since some of the None/Other group would vote or transfer to unionist candidates but this increased electorate probably plateaued by 2005.


Graph Last 7 Turnout

Extrapolating the addition of new Protestant voters minus emigration and the death of older voters indicates the potential unionist electorate has been stable since 2005. The potential nationalist electorate has increased dramatically between 2001 and 2016. The 2nd chart shows the percentage turnout from the potential unionist and nationalist voter pool. Now it is true that there has been a large increase in the vote for the nonsectarian parties but these voters do have 2nd preferences and I looked at the transfer pattern to estimate the turnout from the unionist and nationalist voter pool.

When you look at the vote for unionist, nationalist and nonsectarian parties there are several notable findings. With a fixed potential unionist electorate the vote for unionist parties in 2015 is essentially the same as that in the 2003 Assembly and 2005 Westminster elections. It did decrease in the 2010 and 2011 elections but this is entirely due to scandals within the DUP at that time. It has since completely recovered in 2015. You will note that there was no decline in the unionist vote when comparing the 2011 Assembly and 2014 Euro election but a massive decline of 43,000 votes in the nationalist vote between those elections.

I have adjusted the percentage turnout from the potential nationalist electorate in each election to account for the increase in the nationalist electorate over time (the unadjusted numbers are based on the 2001 census for the 2003 to 2007 elections). The graph indicates that the nationalist turnout was 3% to 5% higher than the unionist turnout in the 2003 and 2005 elections. By the 2010 and 2011 elections it was slightly less than the unionist turnout. In the 2014 and 2015 elections it was 6% and 9% less than the unionist turnout respectively. The unionist turnout in 2015 was slightly higher than the unionist turnout in 2003 and 2005 but the nationalist turnout declined from 59% in 2005 to 46% in 2015.

While unionist voters are still voting at the same rate as they always have, 20% of the potential nationalist electorate have stopped voting.

It is a myth that there is voting apathy among unionist or nonsectarian voters. The voter apathy is entirely from nationalist voters.

What are the implications for the 2016 Assembly election?

I expect that the unionist electorate will continue to vote at the usual 55% rate. The lower turnout in 2010 and 2011 were aberrations due to temporary scandals.

What will happen to the nationalist voter turnout? Are there any factors that could increase that turnout? The actual 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising will be less than 2 weeks before the election but most of the anniversary events have already occurred. While patriotism could be a factor I expect this effect to be minimal. The EU referendum on Brexit will be in June and the proximity to the Assembly election may affect turnout. There have been 2 Lucid Talk polls on Brexit and they showed that only 10% of SF, SDLP, PBP, Alliance and Green voters want to leave the EU.

The polls also showed that only 20% of unionist party voters want to remain in the EU. It is possible that nationalist voters who own or work for businesses that have significant trade with EU countries may be more motivated to turn out to vote for pro EU parties in the Assembly elections but it is not clear if this will be more than minimal.

There is one group of voters that should be highly motivated to vote for pro EU parties and that group are the EU nationals that live in Northern Ireland. Their status in Northern Ireland could be jeopardized by Brexit. They cannot vote in the Brexit referendum but are allowed to vote in the Assembly elections.

The Department of Social Development recently released some data on foreign nationals. As of July 2015 there were 145,000 Non UK nationals living in Northern Ireland with a national insurance number (NiNo). Almost 30,000 were from the Republic of Ireland. The other 115,000 included approximately 85,000 from European countries. That 115,000 does not include ethnic nationals who were born in Northern Ireland (probably only 2,000 or so) or those who have arrived since July 2015. I estimate 90,000 EU nationals of voting age living in Northern Ireland as of April 2016. Only 30,000 are registered to vote.

Surprisingly there appears to have been little interest by the pro EU parties in registering those 60,000 unregistered prior to the April 18th deadline for voter registration. They generally live in the same streets where the registered foreign nationals live. There are 3,000 unregistered EU nationals in East Belfast and one would think that the Alliance Party would register these so they could win a 3rd seat from the DUP. There are 2,000 unregistered EU nationals in North Antrim and it is surprising that the SDLP are not registering them considering that they lost the seat in 2011 by only 600 votes. There are 1,000 unregistered in Strangford and the SDLP lost by only 450 votes in 2011. Similarly for Sinn Fein they lost a seat in Upper Bann by only 400 votes to the UUP and there are over 3,000 unregistered EU nationals in that constituency. In Fermanagh South Tyrone Sinn Fein could lose a seat to the SDLP based on the 2014 council results but with 4,000 EU nationals not registered to vote they could take a seat from the DUP to cancel out that loss if even half that number were registered and voted.

In summary, I expect a continued high turnout of voters from the unionist voting bloc. There may be a slight increase in native nationalist voter turnout related to the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising and the Brexit referendum. There could be a significant increase in voter turnout among EU nationals concerned about Brexit but this will probably be limited due to the low voter registration rates among those communities.


Boundary Review 2016

A  guest Blog by Faha analysing the implications of the latest boundary review and the implications for forthcoming Westminster elections. Detailed maps of the proposed changes are not yet available but I will publish links as soon as they are. BD

In February 2016 the electorate statistics for the UK Boundary Review were released and the number of seats allocated to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were announced.

The total size of the Westminster Parliament will be reduced from 650 seats to 600 seats for the 2020 and subsequent elections. Scotland was allocated 53 (loss of 6), Wales (loss of 11), England 501(loss of 32) and Northern Ireland 17 (loss of 1). Northern Ireland will lose only 1 seat compared to the previous suspended review where Northern Ireland would have lost 2 seats.2015 council map

The reason for the change is that Individual Electoral Registration (IER) was introduced to England, Scotland and Wales in 2014. It had already been in place in Northern Ireland since 2002. The introduction of IER resulted in a decline of over 1,600,000 voters on the December 2015 electoral register compared to the May 2015 register. Northern Ireland increased by 4,000 voters.

The large decline in voters for the December 2015 register, which is the one that will be used for the boundary review, resulted in a lower average for all constituencies which benefited Northern Ireland.

For the Northern Ireland review the average number of voters per constituency is 73,139. A 5% variation is allowed when constructing constituencies so a constituency could have as few as 69,482 or as many as 76,796 voters. The legislation allows for more leeway for Northern Ireland so a constituency could have as many as 78,507 voters. In the previous review the Boundary Review acknowledged this but mentioned that there was no need to use this exception.

The possible boundaries I am outlining are speculative to some extent. However, I believe that the one lost seat will be one of the Belfast constituencies since the number of voters in the new Belfast City Council is the number exactly needed for 3 seats and there is no need to include any wards outside of Belfast.

It is also true that the Boundary Commission attempts to preserve existing constituencies as much as possible and generally avoids transferring voters to a new constituency if at all possible. Nicholas Whyte also did an excellent review on Slugger O’Toole earlier this month.

Fermanagh South Tyrone: 71,038

I will start in the west with Fermanagh South Tyrone. There is no need to change this constituency in any way. There were some minor ward boundary changes when the new council wards were devised. It would consist of all the Fermanagh DEA’s and the Clogher Valley and Dungannon DEA’s.

Foyle: 71,398

There is no need to alter Foyle. The only change is that a few hundred voters will be added from the old Slievekirk ward in Strabane which were added to the old Hollymount ward (but renamed Slievekirk).

West Tyrone: 72,899

This would include all the current West Tyrone (except for a few hundred from Slievekirk mentioned above) and add the wards of Park, Claudy, Feeny and Dungiven.

Mid Ulster: 71,501

This would include all of the current Mid Ulster and add the Kilrea and Garvagh wards.

Newry and Armagh: 75,635

This would include all of the current Newry and Armagh wards except Tandragee which would be transferred to Upper Bann. It should be noted that in the previous review the Tandragee ward was the only ward removed from Newry and Armagh.

Upper Bann: 73,585

Upper Bann would consist of all the wards of the old Craigavon council as well as the Tandragee ward and the new Loughbrickland ward. The 4 Banbridge Town wards would be removed and transferred to Lagan Valley. This would keep all the Portadown, Craigavon and Lurgan wards within the same constituency and Banbridge Town would also be kept intact but in a different constituency.

East Londonderry: 71,795

This constituency would undergo significant changes due to the loss of 6 wards to West Tyrone and Mid Ulster. It would include all the remaining wards from East Londonderry and add the wards of Ballycastle, Kinbane, Giant’s Causeway, Dervock, Route and the 3 Ballymoney wards of East North and South. It would probably be renamed to possibly Causeway Coast and Glens.

East Antrim: 74,740

This would include all the wards of the old Larne and Carrickfergus councils as well as the Lurigethan and Torr Head & Rathlin wards to the north as well as the Jordanstown, Rostulla, Monkstown, Abbey, Ballyduff, Ballynure, and the Ballyclare East and West wards. All the current voters in the constituency would remain but a few from the old Hawthorne and Abbey wards would be added with a similar situation in the north with Torr Head as the new wards combine voters from the current East Antrim with voters from outside the current constituency. Only the Ballyclare and Ballynure wards have all their voters that are new to the constituency.

North Antrim: 72,878

This would include all the wards of the old Ballymena council along with the wards north that are currently part of North Antrim-Rasharkin, Clogh Mills, Dunloy and Loughguile&Stranocum. It would also add the wards of Toome, Cranfield, Randalstown, Shilvodan, Parkgate, Doagh and Ballyrobert.

South Antrim: 75,248

This would include the Antrim, Airport, Glengormley Urban and Macedon (except Abbey ward) DEA’s and the Mossley and Fairview wards. The Glengormley Urban wards were actually part of South Antrim 10 years ago but removed during that boundary review and placed in North Belfast. South Antrim would also expand into Lisburn and include the wards of Glenavy, Stoneyford, Ballinderry, Maghaberry, Moira, Maze and Lagan. Since only the more rural wards in Lisburn would be added all the urban wards of Lisburn Town would be kept in the same constituency of Lagan Valley.

Lagan Valley: 74,971

Lagan Valley would lose several rural wards to South Antrim as mentioned above but the core of the constituency would remain. It would include all the Lisburn North, Lisburn South and Downshire East DEA’s as well as the White Mountain, Blaris and Hillsborough wards. It would include the Dromore, Quilly and Gransha wards that are currently in the constituency and add all 4 of the Banbridge Town wards as well as the Rathfriland ward.

Belfast North: 70,215

Belfast North would lose all the Newtownabbey wards to South Antrim. It would consist of the Castle, Oldpark and Court DEA’s as well as the Beechmount and Ballymurphy wards.

Belfast Southwest: 69,856

This would consist of the Collin and Balmoral DEA’s as well as the Black Mountain DEA (except the Ballymurphy and Beechmount wards) and the Blackstaff, Windsor and Central wards.

Belfast Southeast: 72,411

This would consist of the Ormiston, Titanic and Lisnasharragh DEA’s and the Ormeau and Stranmillis wards.

North Down: 74,317

North Down would include all the wards of the old North Down council and the Warren ward. All these wards are part of the current constituency. It would add the Castlereagh East DEA (except the Moneyreagh ward which is currently part of Strangford). In the previous review North Down was extended to include all of the Ards Peninsula. This would not be possible this time since the electorate would be 79,407 which would exceed the maximum allowed. Nicholas Whyte suggested that Loughview ward could be removed to Southeast Belfast in which case North Down could include the Ards Peninsula. Indeed Holywood ward could also be added to Southeast Belfast and North Down would then have 73,444 voters which is just above the quota. I believe this will not happen for 3 reasons. Adding the Ards Peninsula would disrupt the current Strangford constituency by removing 15,000 voters and also add over 27,000 new voters to the constituency. The 2nd reason is that the 5 Dundonald area wards were part of North Down as recently as the 1995 Westminster by-election in North Down. In the subsequent boundary review these wards were transferred to Strangford. In the boundary review 9 years ago they were transferred to East Belfast. The 3rd reason is the knock on effect in Belfast. Adding Loughview and Holywood to East Belfast would result in Stranmillis and Ormeau transferred to Southwest Belfast with the further knock on effect of transferring Turf Lodge ward to North Belfast. The DUP would STRONGLY object to adding another 100% nationalist ward to North Belfast.

Strangford: 75,360

Strangford would consist of the Ards Peninsula, Newtownards, Comber and Castlereagh South DEA’s and the Moneyreagh, Saintfield and Derryboy wards. It would lose the Ballynahinch and Kilmore wards to South Down. These wards were previously part of South Down until the review 9 years ago. The Carryduff wards were also part of Strangford until the review 9 years ago. In the recent suspended review Strangford was extended to approximately the current Belfast City line so this would continue that extension.

South Down: 75,522

South Down would lose the Banbridge wards and add the Ballynahinch and Kilmore wards. Those latter 2 wards were part of South Down until removed in the review 9 years ago.

There has been some criticism that the 5 year review of constituencies is too disruptive. However, if the Northern Ireland parties can keep the voter registration levels high then Northern Ireland should remain at 17 constituencies. The number of new voters over a 5 years period would only be 35,000 or 2,000 per constituency. This would result in only minor changes every 5 years and no more disruptive than the previous 10 year reviews.

At this time I will not speculate on the electoral implications of the boundary review until the actual Boundary Commission proposals are released in another 6 months.


Teach your Children Well

One of the interesting things I have learned since I moved north of the border ten years ago is how History is taught, or rather not taught, in the schools here.

The commemorations around the centenary of the 1916 rising have brought into vivid focus that there is a lack of knowledge regarding the events of that time among many in this part of the island. This fact startled me, particularly as those events were pivotal to the existence of the northern six county statelet.Hedge school

I am told that the history of that period is taught exclusively through the prism of the great war of 1914-1918. I may be wrong but I am yet to be contradicted.

Having  been taught my history in a Christian Brothers school in Dublin, I grew up with a strong sense of our place in the world and how our own narrative fitted within the context of the wider events taking place during the first quarter of the last century.

Chris Donnelly recently was the recipient of unionist “outrage” for teaching his students the facts of the events, in Ireland, 100 years ago. I wonder what they fear?

British educational policy in Ireland has evolved from the penal laws where our language, culture and (of course) history were forbidden as subjects for learning, to a rather more subtle shaping of a curricular agenda.

Why? I am inclined to think the intended result is the same.

This of course leads us onto the integrated education argument. Let me be clear as to where I stand on this. I am all for integrated education when it gives equal weight to all perspectives, historically, culturally and with regard to the wider curriculum.

I would particularly like to see the Leaving certificate available to students here.

It is often conveniently forgotten that without the Catholic educational system, generations here would have received no education whatsoever. We are, all of us, in the debt of those who provided that service for free over many years.

On a personal note, on this the week before Easter 2016,  I am very proud of the fact that, although my surname is not a common one, five of my wider family were on active service that week including two women.





So do tell us Theresa (what did MI5 tell you?)

A guest post by Sammy McNally.

Theresa Anne Villiers is of excellent British aristocratic stock. The Viliers family came to prominence in the 17th century during the rule of King James 1st and the family’s interest in Ireland stretches back to George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, who was a driving force behind the Irish plantations of the 1620s.

And Theresa is a very clever girl, an Oxbridge educated lawyer who no doubt harbours ambitions of promotion when her tenure as SOS comes to a close.  And why not – she has, (at least up until now and her stance on Brexit), displayed a very safe pair of hands, in an environment where the inappropriate use of a phrase (or the singing of a song at the wrong time as with Peter Brooke) can cost you your job.Theresa Villiers

Her time in Northern Ireland will have afforded her the opportunity to tune her diplomatic skills and acclimatise herself with sensitive security issues – which may well give her an edge over her rivals competing for the plum British cabinet jobs of Foreign or Home Secretary.(As was the case with the similarly careful and cerebral Douglas Hurd who went on to hold both positions.)

Theresa, will no doubt, have a good and thorough knowledge of her ancestor’s history of involvement in Ireland and also a good grasp of where her own role fits into the unfolding relations between Britain and Ireland. To be fair that includes her own positive contribution in navigating a number of extremely difficult situations –  especially the furore over Flags and the controversial killings where suggestions that the PIRA were allowed by a previous (Labour) British government to keep some weapons for ‘housekeeping’ activities.

Having dealt with these issues and helped keep a wobbling  political process on track, Theresa will surely be well aware of just how fragile the so-called ‘Peace Process’ actually is.  She will also be aware that since long before and long after the 1st Duke of Buckingham expanded British property interests in Ireland, periods of relative peace have often been followed by periods of precisely the opposite. She will also hopefully be honest enough to acknowledge, that her own party positions on Ireland, from Bonar Law (inciting treason)  to Ted Heath(Bloody Sunday) not to mention her own leader Dave Cameron (attempting to woo Unionists in secret talks to get elected) has not always had the interests of the people of Ireland to the fore.

In her role as SOS for Northern Ireland Theresa has overall responsibility for Security and she will of course consult extensively with MI5 on matters of government and the implications for the Peace Process of any unfolding political scenarios and we can therefore reasonably conclude that Theresa will have consulted with MI5 on their view of the likely security fallout of Britain leaving the EU.

Given the uncertainty over what the future relationship between the EU and Britain will look like, there is a strong suggestion of at least some restrictions on the movement of people and goods between the EU and Britain and the probable re-emergence of some border controls between the 2 parts of Ireland.  Such a scenario would  (at least privately) delight many Unionist politicians and (at least partly) upset the balance painstakingly established in the GFA that allows for increased social and economic integration of the island of Ireland – not to mention the serious economic implications for the South (and hence its own political stability).

So do tell us Theresa – what MI5 told you when you asked them what the security implications of your favoured policy of Brexit are?

Is it conceivable that MI5 don’t realise the absolute gift that Brexit would constitute to those Republican Dissidents who have tried and failed to re-ignite the conflict? Did they explain to you that any border posts will be a prime target for a reinvigorated Dissident movement with those border posts requiring protection from police and if and when that proves inadequate, protection from British soldiers. I’m guessing they outlined the (extremely negative) implications of the reappearance of British soldiers in South Armagh?

Whatever reservations there may be amongst Nationalists about the continuing role of MI5 in Northern Ireland I think it fair to assume they have actually learned something during their stay and Theresa will surely have been left in no doubt that whatever her political ambitions  – perhaps as Foreign Secretary in the next Tory government led by Boris Johnson – that, just as with her ancestor the 1st Duke of Buckingham and long after she too has gone – that narrow Tory party interests will once again be shown to be directly in conflict with the interests of the people of Ireland.

Old Habits Die Hard

Since the foundation of the north eastern statelet in 1921 a common thread is evident.

The purpose of this is to limit, confine and minimise the electoral influence of citizens born within the geographical area who do not accept the legitimacy or validity of who governs them.


Of course the undemocratic partition of Ireland was a subversion of democracy in the first place but that was some time ago. We have moved on and with the adoption of the GFA I thought that we had all agreed to “getalong” (c: fitzjameshorse) and, subject to the democratically expressed wishes of the electorate, the constitutional status quo would remain.

Since partition, nationalist democratic participation has been systematically limited, minimised and discouraged in the North East. This was a matter of policy by the exclusively Unionist assembly in Stormont.

“Catholics breed like Rabbits and multiply like vermin”

“‘thousands of Roman Catholics have been added to the population. In many places Protestant majorities are now minorities and at that rate of increase twenty years would see the Church of Rome in power”

Meanwhile, political Unionism continues with its old habits as we see in today’s Irish News. This comes hard on the heels of similar patterns of behaviour, particularly in regard to the Girdwood Barracks site.

This is an attempt to ghettoise potential nationalist voters.

There are huge derelict sites across Belfast awaiting development. Anyone who drives into the city can attest to this. The one beside Short Strand is an obvious example.

There are also some derelict brain cells that seek to limit housing expansion in these areas because, guess what, it may lead to an electoral geographic realignment.

This signifies a significant shift in mindset. A shift back to the 1920s.

Am I surprised that the minister, the boul’ Nelson, held a meeting regarding housing in a potentially nationalist voting street in an Orange Hall? No. Not a bit. It is in tune with what unionist political strategy has been for 90 years.

Will it work?

No. It has failed abysmally. Belfast is no longer a Unionist City, demographically or electorally.

It is disappointing that that the old habits of political unionism die hard, but they are surely going the way of the the supremacist, hubristic mindset of 90 years ago.


(As an aside has anyone figured out the identity of the Bangor Woman in the main picture above?)

Fianna Fail -the Kingmakers?

Hi everyone.

Please excuse my extended absence. It was entirely due to a lack of motivation on my part as well as a busy work schedule.

I thought I’d post tonight on the forthcoming elections south of the border.

Today’s RED C Sunday Business Post survey is of interest and, combined with all the recent polls leads me to think that the formation of the next 26 county government is in the gift of the Fianna Fail Party.

The Results of the Poll are:

11/02/2016. TV3 LEADERS ELECTION DEBATE. Pictured

11/02/2016. TV3 LEADERS ELECTION DEBATE. Pictured  Leader Of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams TD at the first General Election 2016 TV and radio debate on TV3 this evening in association with News talk 106fm. The debate is moderated by Newstalks Pat Kenny and TV3s Colette Fitzpatrick. Photo: Sam Boal/

I think the actual election results will be pretty close to this outcome (barring “events” of course) Naturally the actual number of seats won will determine the outcomes.

Now as I see it Fianna Fail have 3 options.

  • Opt for opposition on their own allowing Sinn Fein to become the official opposition party in the Dail
  • Enter a coalition Government as junior partners to Fine Gael
  • Enter a coalition Government as major/junior partners with Sinn Fein

History tells us that political parties will twist, bend and contort whatever is necessary to attain power.

Particularly Fianna Fail.

This could be very interesting.






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