All Changed, Changed Utterly

Faha’s take on Lucid Talk’s most recent poll on Brexit and a Border Poll

In the previous 2 weeks there has been much publicity over the pending part 2 negotiations between the EU and the UK government. The 3 issues that needed to be resolved before moving from part 1 to part 2 were the size of the UK monetary settlement that the UK would owe to the EU, EU citizen rights within the UK, and the nature of the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.


The Northern Ireland-Irish border proved to be the most contentious issue but after much controversy the issue was fudged and negotiations will proceed from part 1 to part 2 next week.

What received little publicity during this past week was the release of a Lucid Talk poll on Brexit and a Border Poll. A previous poll on this had been done in October so why was another done so soon? Apparently the GUE/NGL group within the EU parliament commissioned Lucid Talk to conduct a poll on Brexit and a Border Poll in order to determine the current views of Northern Ireland voters on these issues. The EU needs this information in order to develop a negotiating strategy based on the wishes of the population of Northern Ireland. What the EU already knows is that Northern Ireland, in the June 2016 Brexit referendum, voted 56% Remain and 44% Leave. Apparently they wish to confirm if there have been any changes in the view of Northern Ireland voters.

The poll was commissioned by the GUE/NGL parliamentary group and conducted by Lucid Talk. Over 3,000 voters from the Lucid Talk panel responded and a final total of almost 2,100 was included based on the demographics of Northern Ireland. The following were some of the more significant results.

One question asked was whether Northern Ireland should have a special status which would include remaining in the EU Customs Union and EU Single Market. The results for all voters were:

Special Status-Stay in EU Customs Union and EU Single Market

Yes                             57.8%

No                              39.6%

No Opinion                 2.5%



Results by Political Party                  Nationalist           Unionist             Other

Yes                                                  97.7%               12.0%              87.7%

No                                                    1.7%                83.7%               9.5%

Results by Religion                             Catholic              Protestant       Other/None

Yes                                                       94.8%                 21.7%           67.3%

No                                                        4.6%                74.0%           30.5%

Obviously there is huge difference between Nationalist- Alliance/Green voters and Unionist voters with the former 2 groups overwhelmingly in favour of Special Status and Unionist voters overwhelmingly opposed. Not surprisingly, Catholic voters overwhelmingly prefer Special Status and Other/None favour Special Status by a 2 to 1 margin. There is a significant percentage of Protestant voters, 21.7%, who also prefer Special Status. The 74% of Protestants who oppose Special Status is exactly the same percentage that voted Leave in the Brexit Referendum. Overall, less than 40% of all voters are opposed to Special Status while 57.8% are in favour. The percentage in favour of Special Status is slightly higher than the 56% of voters who voted Remain in the Brexit Referendum.

A question on a Border Poll was also asked. Voters were asked how they would vote if there was a Hard Brexit with no deal on the Border or the Good Friday agreement or citizen (? EU citizen) rights. The 2 choices were Remain in the EU by joining the Irish Republic in a United Ireland or Leave the EU and stay in the UK. The results were (excluding nonvoters)

Remain in EU-United Ireland


Leave the EU-Stay in the UK





Results by Political Party                    Nationalist               Unionist            Other

Remain in EU-United Ireland                 94.5%                  2.2%           56.9%

Leave the EU-Stay in the UK                    1.9%                 95.0%           14.5%

Undecided                                             3.6%                  2.4%            25.1%


Results by Religion                               Catholic                  Protestant      Other

Remain in EU-United Ireland                90.0%              8.1%              54.9%

Leave the EU-Stay in the UK                   5.1%              85.3%             33.7%

Undecided                                                 4.8%              5.6%            10.2%


Results by Age                                          18 to 44                     45+

Remain in EU-United Ireland                   57.1%                    37.8%

Leave the EU-Stay in the UK                    37.4%                     54.4%

Undecided                                                     4.9%                      7.2%

What is remarkable is that there is a plurality of 2.5% who are in favour of a United Ireland with a Hard Brexit. No previous poll in the previous 100 years has ever shown this result.

However, in the October Lucid Talk poll they estimated a 46.4% vote in favour of a United Ireland with a Hard Brexit and 53.6% to Remain the UK. What has changed since the October poll is that most of the Undecided (10%) and Soft Remainers (5.5%) have opted for a United Ireland which is consistent with their preference with a Hard Brexit. The preference for a United Ireland had a base of 34% with a Soft Brexit or no Brexit. There was another group of soft Remainers (10%) who were not further questioned in October on their preferences with a Hard Brexit and some of these appear to be undecided with a Hard Brexit.

The breakdown by Religion and political party is unsurprising when looking at the unionist-nationalist and Catholic-Protestant preferences. However, support for a United Ireland among Protestants has increased from 4.6% to 8.1% because most of the Protestant undecided have opted for a United Ireland with a Hard Brexit. There has also been a significant shift among Catholics who preferred to stay in the UK with a Hard Brexit. This group was 12% in October but now it is 5.1% stay in the UK and 4.8% undecided so it appears that half of Catholics (the 12%) who wished to stay in the UK with a Hard Brexit in October are now undecided or in favour of a United Ireland. Younger voters (age 18 to 44) are strongly in favour of a United Ireland by a 20% margin. The main reason that a United Ireland has a plurality is that support for staying in the UK with a Hard Brexit has collapsed to only 14.5% among Alliance-Green voters with a clear majority of 56.9% in favour of a United Ireland.

What are the implications of all of this?

The EU is aware that Northern Ireland voted 56% to Remain in the EU in June 2016 and that in December 2017 58% wish to remain in the EU Customs Union and Single Market. The support for leaving the EU Customs Union and Single Market is less than 40%. Therefore, the EU should acknowledge the wishes of the Northern Ireland people and negotiate an agreement with the UK that includes a Northern Ireland that essentially remains in the EU. This is irrespective of what the remainder of the UK negotiates with the EU. The Republic of Ireland and certain political parties within Northern Ireland, including SF, the SDLP, Alliance and Green parties, should support this negotiating position since their voters in Northern Ireland also overwhelmingly support Northern Ireland remaining fully within the EU.

An outsider reading about this whole situation in the previous 2 weeks could conclude that Arlene Foster and the DUP are representing Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations. Yet their views are held by less than 40% of Northern Ireland voters. In the coming year it is essential that the non unionist parties represent the views of the majority of Northern Ireland voters who wish to remain in the EU in all negotiations with the EU.

Now it is true that if the UK did agree to allow Northern Ireland to remain in the EU Customs Union and Single Market that the DUP would strongly object and threaten to withdraw their support for the Conservative government and thus collapse that government. However, if that occurs then a Border Poll should be called. A Border Poll may be the best options if negotiations are deadlocked over a final agreement. The EU, Republic of Ireland and non unionist Northern Ireland parties should not allow a DUP or unionist veto in any agreement.

The results of a Border Poll would be much more in favour of a United Ireland than the 2.5% margin that exists in this recent poll. In an actual Border Poll 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to vote. The demographics of that age group and the fact that younger voters strongly favour a United Ireland would result in a 65% vote in favour of a United Ireland in that age group which would increase the margin to 3.5%.

The Undecided group is currently 6.1% but that group consists of 4% None/Other and 1% Catholic and only 1% Protestant. That is a demographic profile that is unlikely to aid the stay in the UK vote. This poll includes very few foreign nationals. There were 1% included in the poll that did not identify their identity as British, Irish, Northern Irish or some combination. That group would have included some who identified as Scottish, English, Welsh as well as some actual foreign nationals. That 1% broke down to 76% for a United Ireland and 19% to remain in the UK. If only actual foreign nationals were counted support for a United Ireland would actually exceed 90%. Since foreign nationals are potentially 10% of the electorate the actual margin of victory for a United Ireland could exceed 55%.

It is time for the political parties in Northern Ireland that favour a United Ireland to begin negotiations with the EU and the Republic of Ireland on integrating Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland  and including a potential Border Poll in negotiations with the UK.


Brexit and a Border Poll by Faha

Last week Lucid Talk released an extensive poll on Brexit and a Border Poll. I am going to analyze some of the more important findings in that poll. Lucid Talk has a panel of over 10,000 Northern Ireland residents. Almost 4,000 responded to their recent poll and their findings are based on those respondents. Lucid Talk has been very accurate in their recent polls. In the 2016 Assembly election they predicted a total nationalist vote of only 38% to 39% which was widely scoffed at prior to the election since it showed a mark decline in the nationalist vote despite a rising nationalist voting age population. The subsequent election results showed the poll was almost 100% accurate. The Lucid Talk poll for the EU referendum in Northern Ireland in June 2016 was accurate to within 1%. Their poll for the 2017 Assembly election predicted a resurgence of the nationalist vote and a significant decline in the unionist vote which was borne out by the actual results with the unionist parties in a minority for the first time ever in an election in Northern Ireland.

The main question asked on a Border Poll was: If a Northern Ireland Border Poll Referendum was held “tomorrow” which way would you vote: “Should Northern Ireland REMAIN a part of the United Kingdom or LEAVE the United Kingdom and join the Republic of Ireland and one nation state Ireland?”

After excluding those who stated they would not vote the results were:

Remain           56%

Leave              34%

Undecided     10%

The results by age were

Age 18 to 44

Remain           44%

Leave              46%

Undecided        9%

Age 45+

Remain            60.0%

Leave                28.9%

Undecided       10.0%

The results by Religion were


Remain           90.2%

Leave                 4.6%

Undecided        4.8%


Remain             15.8%

Leave                 68.7%

Undecided        13.2%


Remain             46.5%

Leave                 36.0%

Undecided        17.5%

Unsurprisingly, 90% of Protestants wish to Remain in the UK. However, there is an increase in support for a United Ireland since all previous polls in the previous 50 years have shown Protestant support for a United Ireland in the 1% to 3% range. The results for Catholics are also not surprising since similar polls in the previous 50 years have shown Catholic support for remaining in the UK in the 15% to 20% range with higher values in the past 10 years. The results for None/Other show and unexpected support for a United Ireland at a relatively high 36%. Even if a slight majority of the Undecided voted in favour of a United Ireland the final result would be 60% Remain and 40% Leave if a Border Poll were held “tomorrow”. The poll also found that a slight plurality of those under 45 favour a United Ireland.

Lucid Talk also looked at a future Border Poll with different Brexit scenarios including a “Hard Brexit” and a “Soft Brexit” and further analyzed the Undecided and Remain voters. They conclude that with a “Hard Brexit” the results would be:

Remain           53.57%

Leave              46.43%

This indicated a much closer result.

In looking at the sub groups for the initial results of 56% to 34% they found the following for Alliance-Green voters:

Remain               33.3%

Leave                  37.0%

Undecided         29.7%

Alliance-Green voters show a slight plurality for a United Ireland with many undecided.

Lucid Talk looked at all the 10% Undecided with the question “What type of Undecided voter are you?”

1.0% Remain regardless of Brexit

7.4%   Leave regardless of type of Brexit

57.6% UK Hard Brexit- would Consider voting Leave

34.0% UK stayed in EU or Soft Brexit-would Consider voting Remain

The Undecided are undecided mainly because of Brexit and if there is a Hard Brexit it appears that almost all of them would vote Leave.

The Remain voters were also asked if Brexit would change their vote.

Protestant Catholic None/Other

Remain regardless of Brexit                          61.6%      62.5%        63.8%       53.4%

Hard Brexit-reinforce decision to Remain  11.0%       10.4%        14.2%       12.2%

Hard Brexit-Consider voting Leave               9.5%       9.5%            5.5%        13.7%

Soft Brexit-reinforce decision to Remain    17.9%     17.7%          16.5%       20.6%

What is significant is that 9.5% of Remain voters (5.5% of all voters) may switch to Leave if there is a Hard Brexit. The 18% of Remain voters (10% of all voters) who stated that a Soft Brexit would reinforce their decision to Remain were not further asked how they would vote if there was Hard Brexit so it is unknown how many would consider the Leave option. A curious result is that Catholic voters who are Remain are less willing to change their vote with a Hard Brexit compared to Protestant voters. There appears to be a hard core of 12% of Catholics who are Remain even with a Hard Brexit. Overall, 72.6% of Remain voters are hard core Remain under all circumstances. For all voters, 40% are Remain with a Hard Brexit and would never consider Leave. For Protestant voters, 9.4% are Leave or Undecided and another 8.6% would consider Leave with a Hard Brexit.

At this point I will present an estimate of what the results of a Border Poll would be after a Hard Brexit in March 2019 based on the demographics at that time. There is some uncertainty in calculating the demographics since the 2011 census cannot be perfectly extrapolated from 2011 to 2019 due to emigration of the native population and continued in migration of foreign nationals. There were also some inaccurate estimates in the Religion question as there was no information available for over 200,000 people. For a 2019 Referendum Border Poll I will assume a voting age of 16 since this was the same voting age allowed in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

From the time of the March 2011 census and the final Brexit in March 2019 this is the electorate calculation. There would be 118,000 deaths, mainly in the elderly, during that time period. There would also be 238,000 new voters. The voting age population would be as follows:

Total                Catholic          Protestant        Other        None

1,500,000          685,000          725,000          14,000      76,000

These official numbers need to be adjusted for undercount of the Catholic population as shown in the 2011 School Census. The school census showed 5,300 more Catholics in the same age cohort than the official census. Extrapolated to the whole population indicated a greater than 20,000 undercount. There are also 5,000 British soldiers in the census who do not vote in Northern Ireland. I conservatively estimated a 15,000 Catholic undercount for the voting age population. The adjusted numbers are:

Total                Catholic              Protestant        Other            None

1,495,000         700,000              719,000            14,000         62,000

Immigration data shows a net inflow of only 3,500 per year. There are 7,500 immigrant foreign nationals and over 1,000 from the Republic of Ireland per year. That indicates a net outflow of 5,000 per year of natives from Northern Ireland. There does not appear to be any differential emigration from Northern Ireland based on religion. Most of the immigrants from the Republic of Ireland are of Catholic origin as well as many of the EU nationals. The figures adjusted for emigration and immigration are:

Total                Catholic              Protestant        Other            None

1,525,000          730,000              713,000           20,000          62,000

While it appears that there will be more Catholics of voting age in 2019 compared to Protestants this is not true of native Irish. Recent data from 2016 show 125,000 foreign nationals with NiNO registrations living in Northern Ireland. Including native ethnic nationals and new arrivals between 2016 and 2019 there will be 150,000 foreign nationals by 2019. The adjusted numbers are:

Total-Native     Catholic            Protestant        Other            None

1,375,000           640,000              683,000          5,000            47,000


150,000                90,000                30,000          15,000          15,000

Thus, I estimate there are 43,000 more native Protestants of voting age compared to Catholics and I will use these numbers. If there was a Border Poll with 100% turnout these would be the results for native voters. I am assuming a Hard Brexit and based on the Lucid Talk numbers with a Hard Brexit there would be at most 15% of Catholics who would vote Remain and 15% of Protestants that would vote Leave. There would be a slight majority of 55% of Other/None who would vote Leave.

The predicted results are:

Remain    700,000            50.9%

Leave        675,000            49.1%

Remain would have a narrow win. The percentage for Leave is only 2.7% higher than what Lucid Talk predicts with a Hard Brexit. This increase is entirely due to including 16 and 17 years old in the electorate as well as 2 years of demographic changes. However, what about those 150,000 foreign nationals?  The Lucid Talk panel consists of voters who are highly engaged in politics and have a high rate of voting. There a few if any foreign nationals though perhaps a few from countries such as Australia and Canada. The 150,000 foreign nationals are approximately 110,000 EU nationals, 10,000 from English speaking countries such as Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. The other 30,000 would be approximately 7,500 Chinese, 7,500 from India, 5,000 Muslims, 3,000 Filipinos and 7,000 from all other countries. The EU nationals would be strongly motivated to vote in a Border Poll since a Hard Brexit could mean the loss of their jobs and financial security. Their relatives could no longer come to work in Northern Ireland. The non EU nationals would not all be in favour of Leave. I estimate 135,000 Leave voters and 15,000 Remain. The result if everyone in Northern Ireland voted would be:

Remain               715,000               46.9%

Leave                   810,000              53.1%

Now clearly predicting the result of a Border Poll on a 100% turnout is not realistic. The Good Friday Agreement Referendum had a turnout of 80% of the voting population. 20% of the voting age population could not be bothered to vote even though the referendum was about ending 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. The Scottish Independence Referendum had a turnout of 85% of the voting age population. Even though this was a Referendum that would totally alter the status of Scotland 15% of the population had no interest in voting. I expect that a Border Poll would have a turnout of between 80% and 85%. The Westminster election in June had a turnout of 812,000. EU nationals were not allowed to vote in that election and I estimate there may have been 12,000 other foreign nationals who did vote. So 800,000 native voters voted. In 2019, there would be a potential additional 575,000 native voters. Of these 90,000 would be new voters currently age 14 to 17 with a demographic profile of 51% Catholic, 41% Protestant and 8% None/Other. With that profile and given that younger voters in general are more likely to vote Leave, this group will be 55% to 60% Leave with a Hard Brexit. The other potential 485,000 voters would be skewed toward younger voters since there was lower voter turnout among younger voters. Thus, the nonvoters would tend to be more likely Leave voters. An 85% turnout would add an additional 370,000 voters with the majority under 45. Including 16 and 17 year olds, the 16 to 44 age group is actually larger than the 45+ age group.

Lucid Talk did evaluate likelihood of voting and these were the results if the Border Poll was held “tomorrow”. This only includes voters who have consistently voted in recent elections.

Remain              Leave          Undecided

45+                          47.2%               42.2%              12.2%

18-44                      33.8%                56.4%               9.7%

Clearly a Border Poll held “tomorrow” with likely voters would result in a Leave majority. It was noted that the under 45 group that was in favour of a United Ireland were the most committed to voting. This defies conventional wisdom since it is generally assumed that unionists would turn out in large numbers to prevent a United Ireland with younger voters less likely to vote. There certainly are many unionist voters who are opposed to a United Ireland. However, this opposition may be tempered by the fact that some are also opposed to a Hard Brexit and see both prospects as undesirable. It should be noted that almost all polls in the June 2017 Westminster election predicted a large Conservative majority because they assumed that turnout would be low among voters under 30. They were wrong and voter turnout was quite high among that group which led to the unexpected strong showing for Labour and a Conservative minority in Westminster.  A Hard Brexit may result in a similar high turnout among young voters.

With this poll data there needs to be a major change in strategy by the nationalist parties-Sinn Fein and the SDLP. The new goal should be to aim for a Border Poll to be timed shortly after Brexit occurs in March 2019. Since the poll numbers are most favourable for a United Ireland with a Hard Brexit that is the most favourable scenario. The DUP and Conservatives are in favour of a Hard Brexit so give them what they want. It appears that Stormont will be in permanent suspension and Direct Rule, which is DUP-Conservative rule, may occur shortly. With Direct Rule, nationalists will have no say in the governing of Northern Ireland. This will be no different than the period from 1922 to 1972 except that the DUP is more hard line and less willing to share power with nationalists than the unionists of the 1922 to 1972 era. Direct Rule will sway more Undecided and soft Remain voters to consider Leave. It has been 8 months since the Conservative government has officially begun the process of Brexit. There have been no agreements reached with EU officials over the details of Brexit. EU officials appear to be taking a hard line with the UK over Brexit and SF and the SDLP should support their negotiating position. The only border that is acceptable to nationalists is the Irish Sea. Otherwise, the alternative should be a United Ireland with no Border. Divorces are often messy and bitter and the EU is in no mood to be conciliatory to the UK. The EU will be supportive of efforts towards a United Ireland and this will include financial support. The EU was very supportive of a United Germany when East Germany collapsed. The East German economy was in much worse shape than that of Northern Ireland with 10 times the population.

There are some issues that will need to be addressed with a United Ireland and SF and the SDLP need to work on proposals now. Many aspects of the economy such as Education, Defense and Foreign Affairs and Agriculture should meld easily with a United Ireland. The 2 most difficult ones are Health Care and Pensions for the elderly. Pensions for the elderly in Northern Ireland should be set at least 5% to 10% above the current levels so there is no disincentive for the elderly to vote against a United Ireland (I believe they are already higher in the Republic?( Current Pension rates in ROI range from €227 – €238 per week versus £159 in UK- BD). A health care system similar to the NHS would be desirable and would need to be established. There have been concerns raised because of the large of amount of agricultural exports to the UK. However, the UK (excluding NI) only produces 60% of the food needed to feed its population. It must continue to import the other 40% or else there would be widespread malnutrition and famine.

There are a few practical issues that need to be addressed in order for a Border Poll to win a majority for a United Ireland.

#1 Voting Age

The voting age should be lowered to 16 just as it was for the Scottish Independence referendum

#2 Voter Registration

SF and the SDLP need to begin a voter registration drive among younger voters and foreign nationals since these are the least likely to be on the electoral register. Currently online registration is available throughout the UK except in Northern Ireland. This needs to be introduced immediately. Potential voters should be allowed to submit online a photograph that will be used for the photographic ID electoral identity card.

#3 Northern Ireland Representation in the Dail

Based on the 2011 Ireland and Northern Ireland census, Northern Ireland should be entitled to 62 representatives in the Dail. The current Boundary Review with 17 constituencies will be completed by October 2018. This Review could be used for the constituencies for the first initial election to the Dail in Northern Ireland. There would be 4 TD’s elected per constituency for a total of 68. The total size of the Dail would be 226.

#4 Economy

Some companies in Northern Ireland have already indicated that they may relocate to the Republic of Ireland or elsewhere in Europe in order to retain access to EU markets. The Border Poll needs to occur as soon as possible after Brexit so that these companies would remain in Northern Ireland in the event of a Leave majority vote

At this time it is still premature to predict the effects of a Hard Brexit on the UK economy. If the world economy is booming in March 2019 a Hard Brexit may have only a minor negative effect on the UK economy. A worldwide recession in 2019 would be much worse with significant capital outflow from the UK and possible bank failures. The nationalist parties should prepare for the worst and begin the process of negotiating the nature of a United Ireland with the government of the Republic and lay the groundwork for a successful Border Poll Referendum.



Fury, Outrage and Anger

Hi everyone,

It’s been an interesting few weeks.

The Tories clinging to power in Britain by flirting with the DUP, flashing the cash, paying for the goodies and swishing their conservative skirts brings to mind a political lap dancing image which I’d rather not conjure up.St matthews

The title of this blog is a reference to the Belfast Telegraph sub editors who seem incapable of any other adjectives regarding unionist reaction to, well, just about anything. I could have added a few more words such as defensive, defiant, aggressive and denial.

We have had to endure the unedifying spectacle of certain elected politicians treading one of three well trodden paths and  combination of all of them.

  1. Attempting to Justify the behaviours and consequences of those behaviours, of the crazier elements of their support
  2. Deflecting in every direction possible rather than addressing the actual issues
  3.  Disappearing from sight and sound entirely

This amounts to a single thing.

A dereliction of leadership.

If I may spell  it out, never has the PUL community been more in need of clear, focussed, leadership than now.

Without that, unionism cedes ground to the lunatic fringe that we saw on display in Windsor Park last night with their songbook in full voice and their unrestrained, instinctive, visceral, hatred, on display to a wider audience.

Wider Unionism has not yet realised that they are now a minority in the North East of Ireland.  Their politicians know it. Everyone else knows it, Horseman knew it some years ago, most educated unionist voters know it.  Someone needs to tell their 1690 facing followers.

As long as political unionism refuses to lead their voters, the only movement they will experience is backwards. That is a tragedy for their poorest and most disenfranchised voters.

As for the the Belfast Telegraph headline writers? Shame on you.

I hope, for the sake of unionism, that change will happen soon.


Westminster 2017 Faha Predicts

By Faha

I know that regular readers here have been looking forward to this. Faha’s analysis and predictions for the June 8th election are set out below……. Enjoy! – BD

NI Constituency pic

The June 8 Westminster election will be held in 2 weeks. This is my constituency analysis for that election. It is more difficult to do an analysis by comparing this election with the 2015 election because so much has transpired in the previous 2 years. The UK voted to leave the UK in the Brexit referendum one year ago. Northern Ireland voted Remain by a 56% to 44% margin and this fact will influence the results in Northern Ireland. The second major factor is the end of nationalist voter apathy in the March 2017 Assembly election, which resulted in the unionist parties winning a minority of seats in the Assembly. This is the first time the unionist parties, in any legislative Assembly in the previous 100 years, have ever been in a minority.

However, it is not as simple as transposing the results of the March 2017 election to the Westminster election. The electorate is different. The 30,000 EU voters who were eligible to vote in March are unable to vote in the Westminster election so this would decrease the vote totals for SF, SDLP, Alliance and Greens. Since this is a first past the post election, tactical voting will be more prominent. Turnout is difficult to predict but there is no reason to believe that there will be an increased unionist turnout. Brexit is a done deal and the Conservatives appear headed for a landslide victory in the UK. There is no reason for unionist non-voters who favour Brexit to vote since the Conservative Party will negotiate Brexit for them.

Some SF, SDLP, Alliance and Green nonvoters who did not vote in March, but who are strongly opposed to Brexit, may vote as a form of protest against Brexit and this is their only opportunity to do so before Brexit occurs in 2019. There may also be an increase in voting by dissident republicans who traditionally have voted for SF but have stopped voting in recent years. Of course, they have no interest in Westminster but the strong showing by SF in the Assembly election will motivate some to vote and defeat unionist candidates.

There was a Lucid Talk Poll done in the past week and the results were:

Change Assembly 2017

SF                    27.9%                         0.0%

SDLP               13.7%                         1.8%

PBP                    0.9%                       -0.9%

Alliance            9.8%                     0.7%

Green                0.7%                   -1.6%

DUP                  28.8%                    0.7%

UUP                  15.7%                    2.8%

TUV                    0.1%                   -2.4%

Conservative     0.2%                     0.0%

Others                2.2%                    -0.2%

The only statistically significant changes from the March Assembly election are the increase for the SDLP and UUP and the decrease for the TUV and Green. More than half the other vote would be for Sylvia Hermon.

There are 8 constituencies where there could be a change compared to 2015, I will briefly go over the 10 constituencies where there is no possibility of a change in the results from 2015. 4 of these are SF seats and 5 are DUP seats.

West Tyrone

Assembly result

SF           48.1%

SDLP       14.2%

UUP         8.2%

DUP        20.5%

An easy victory for SF here and it is possible the SF vote may exceed 50%.

Mid Ulster

Assembly results

SF            52.8%

SDLP        12.9%

UUP            9.1%

DUP          19.3%

Again an easy victory for SF with a vote greater than 50%.

Newry and Armagh

Assembly results

SF            48.4%

SDLP        16.3%

UUP          13.2%

DUP          17.8%

An easy victory for SF here and it is possible the SF vote may exceed 50%.

West Belfast

Assembly results

SF            61.8%

SDLP         8.6%

PBP          14.9%

UUP          1.2%

DUP          10.1%

This will be SF’s best result. The only point of interest here will be if the PBP vote collapses further.


Assembly results

SF                2.9%

SDLP            8.9%

UUP           20.1%

DUP            39.9%

Alliance      15.0%

An easy victory for the DUP here. This was one constituency where there was only a minimal increase in nationalist turnout. The Brexit referendum had a much higher turnout and there was a 44.5% Remain vote. If there is any evidence of a anti Brexit protest vote it would show up in higher vote total for Alliance, SDLP or SF.

Lagan Valley

Assembly results

SF                4.0%

SDLP            8.4%

UUP           25.2%

DUP            40.3%

Alliance      15.0%

Another easy victory for the DUP here. Lagan Valley voted 46.9% Remain on a higher turnout so it will be interesting if any anti-Brexit protest vote shows up in the Alliance, SDLP and SF vote.

East Antrim

Assembly results

SF                9.9%

SDLP            4.1%

UUP           22.7%

DUP            35.2%

Alliance      16.0%

An easy victory for the DUP here. This is another constituency with a higher Brexit turnout and a 44.8% Remain vote. Will there be any evidence of an anti-Brexit protest vote here?

North Antrim

Assembly results

SF               15.8%

SDLP             7.3%

UUP             12.5%

DUP              40.6%

TUV              16.1%

Another safe seat for the DUP. This was the most pro Brexit constituency at over 62%. The only point of interest here is if the TUV vote collapses further.

East Derry

Assembly results

SF                          25.8%

SDLP                     10.8%

Nationalist             1.2%

UUP                         6.7%

DUP                        33.3%

Other Unionist     16.7%

Alliance                    4.4%

This is a safe seat for the DUP. This is one constituency where a nationalist pact could be viable since the combined nationalist vote of 37.8% exceeds the DUP vote of 33.3%. In reality though it would not be successful since much of the other unionist vote would go to the DUP in such a situation and the DUP vote would exceed 40%, as it did in the 2015 Westminster election.

North Down

Assembly results

UUP           21.5%

DUP            37.5%

Alliance      18.6%

Green          13.7%

Sylvia Hermon will win easily here as she always does. She will receive the UUP vote as well as much of the SF, SDLP, Alliance and Green vote. Some of the DUP vote will also go to her.

Now I will analyze the 8 seats where there could be a change. I will start with the ones that will be the most likely to change.

South Antrim

Assembly results

SF                16.3%

SDLP             9.5%

UUP           20.8%

DUP            33.7%

Alliance      12.5%

I except that this seat will be won by Paul Girvan of the DUP and Danny Kinahan of the UUP will lose. They are several reasons for this conclusion. The DUP vote exceeded the UUP vote by 5,500 in the Assembly election. In the 2015 Westminster election Danny Kinahan won by only 1,000 votes. In comparing that 2015 vote with the previous Assembly election it appears that 1,000 of his votes were tactical votes from Alliance voters and another 500 were tactical votes from the SDLP. These 1,500 tactical voters probably voted for Danny Kinahan because Willie McCrea was seen as extreme by those voters and Danny Kinahan was seen as a moderate. These votes are unlikely to go to Danny Kinahan this time. Those tactical Alliance and SDLP voters are anti-Brexit and Danny Kinahan voted pro Brexit in Westminster so they are unlikely to vote for him. Paul Girvan of the DUP does not have the same image as Willie McCrea and it is more likely that most of the DUP Assembly voters will vote for him. This constituency is the most likely to have a change on June 8.

Fermanagh South Tyrone

Assembly results

SF                                            22,008

SDLP                                         5,134

UUP                                          6,060

DUP                                         15,581

Other Unionist                            850

Alliance                                      1,437

Green                                            550

Labour                                          643

There is a unionist pact here will only Tom Elliot of the UUP standing as the unofficial unionist unity candidate. The total unionist vote of 22,491 only slightly exceeds the SF vote of 22,008. The SF vote does include some EU nationals but probably less than 1,000.  I expect that the majority of the 643 Labour vote will go to SF. Also, in Westminster elections some of the SDLP vote goes to SF. This is more likely to occur this time because the SDLP candidate is not from the constituency and is actually a councillor in West Tyrone. There could be a few Green or Alliance anti Brexit voters that also go to SF. I also expect more dissident republicans to vote in this election as a protest against a hard border. This seat will be won by SF though as always it will be a close election.

East Belfast

Assembly results

SF                                 2.9%

SDLP                             0.6%

UUP                            13.1%

DUP                            37.6%

Other Unionist           8.9%

Alliance                      31.4%

Green                           3.6%

Labour                          1.1%

I believe this constituency will result in a very narrow win for Alliance. The DUP appear to have the advantage. There is a 8.9% vote for the PUP and TUV here but some of these voters may stay home or vote UUP. I expect enough of them to vote DUP to increase the DUP vote to 41% to 42%. I expect that there will be enough tactical voting by SF, SDLP, Green and Alliance voters (and possibly a few UUP) to increase the Alliance vote to 36%. The major unknown is turnout.  East Belfast did vote 48.6% Remain on a higher turnout. There were 20,700 Remain voters. I think there will be an increased voter turnout here mainly due to anti Brexit voters and this will give Naomi Long a narrow victory over the DUP.

The following 2 constituencies could change but I believe it is very unlikely.

Upper Bann 

Assembly results

SF                27.8%

SDLP              9.9%

UUP           20.6%

DUP            32.8%

TUV               2.0%

Alliance         5.3%

It appears that SF may have a chance of winning in Upper Bann. The SF vote was only 2,500 less than the DUP vote in March. However, the TUV are not competing and most of their 1,000 votes will go to the DUP. The SF total also includes EU nationals and may be as high as 1,000. Thus, SF would need an additional 4,000 votes. It is possible that 1,000 to 2,000 could come from the SDLP. Nationalist turnout has always been much less that unionist turnout here and unless there is a significant increase in nationalist nonvoters who decide to vote as a protest against Brexit the DUP should retain this seat.


Assembly results

SF                36.7%

SDLP            31.8%

PBP              10.7%

UUP                3.7%

DUP               13.4%

Alliance           2.5%

SF would appear to have the edge here as their vote total exceeded that of the SDLP by over 2,000 votes. However, there is no UUP candidate and there is a history here of significant tactical voting for Mark Durkan from Alliance, UUP and even a few DUP voters which will make up that 2,000 vote difference. PBP will poll less without Eamonn McCann as the candidate and the SDLP will pick up more of that vote. Mark Durkan should win but with a narrower majority.


South Belfast

Assembly results

SF                  17.7%

SDLP             19.4%

UUP              9.0%

DUP            20.9%

TUV               1.6%

Alliance      17.8%

Green           9.9%

The DUP would appear to have the edge over the SDLP here. Not only was the DUP vote 1.5% higher than the SDLP vote in March but it is likely that the DUP will add another 1% from the TUV vote. However, there is likely to be significant tactical voting for the SDLP from some Green, Alliance, SF and even a few UUP voters to prevent the DUP from winning. In the Brexit referendum South Belfast voted 70% Remain and 30% Leave so there could be a significant anti-Brexit protest vote that will benefit Alasdair McDonnell. The Lucid Talk poll is showing a 1.8% increase in the SDLP vote and it is likely that this increase is localized to the constituencies of South Belfast, Foyle and South Down due to tactical voting and a personal vote for the candidates.

North Belfast

Assembly results

SF                  29.4%

SDLP             13.1%

PBP                 3.8%

UUP                5.8%

DUP               32.1%

PUP                 4.9%

Alliance          8.4%

Green             1.7%

There is an unofficial unionist pact here with Nigel Dodds of the DUP the only unionist candidate. The DUP will pick up all the PUP and most of the UUP vote so the DUP total vote should be 42%. The SF vote will be much higher than 29.4% and will come from 4 sources. SF should add 3% of the PBP vote. The SDLP have a low profile candidate and the SDLP vote is lower in Westminster elections compared to Assembly or Council elections due to some tactical voting for SF in Westminster elections. The big unknown is how much of the 13.1% of the March Assembly vote will go to SF. Alban Maginness received 8.2% in 2015 but he was a high profile candidate with a significant personal vote whereas Martin McCauley is relatively unknown. Furthermore most SDLP voters are anti Brexit and may be more inclined to tactically vote SF to defeat the pro Brexit Nigel Dodds. I believe the SDLP vote could be as low as 6%. There will also be a few Green and Alliance voters who will vote tactically for SF due to Brexit. These would be Green and Alliance voters who give SF a 2nd or lower preference in an Assembly election. The SF vote should reach 40% which would still be short of Nigel Dodds. SF can win only if stay at home republican and nationalist nonvoters turnout in an anti-Brexit vote. SF needs a perfect storm with additional votes from PBP, SDLP, Alliance and Green voters as well as non-voters to win here. If any one of those does not materialize SF cannot win.

South Down

Assembly results

SF                38.6%

SDLP            25.2%

UUP               8.5%

DUP              15.8%

Alliance         9.2%

SF is more likely to win this seat than North Belfast. The gap between SF and the SDLP was over 13% in March. Based on previous elections the SDLP will pick up another 9% from tactical votes from Alliance, UUP and DUP voters. However, the SDLP would still be 4% behind SF. There was higher unionist tactical voting for Margaret Ritchie in 2010 and if this were to recur in this election then the SDLP would close the gap. There is probably also a small personal vote for Margaret Ritchie among voters who voted for SF for the first time this past March. This will be a very close contest and the outcome will be determined by the extent of Alliance and unionist tactical voting. This is probably one constituency where the increased SDLP vote in the Lucid Talk poll is concentrated.

South Belfast, one to watch

“We can do this”

The words of a Sinn Fein activist on the stump in South Belfast last week.

I must admit I was personally sceptical. But it got me thinking.Polling booths

Then, this week , South Belfast bubbled to the surface again as a serious point of political interest. Sam McBride over at the newsletter published a predictably, unionist minded piece which Mick referenced in an earlier article here on Slugger. Chris Donnelly has also done an in depth piece on the constituency including the recent vote numbers.

What is clear is that the SDLP share of the vote has decreased from 32.3% to 19.4% (with the exception of 2010 when SF didn’t stand gifting a 41% vote to the sole SDLP candidate) and the Sinn Féin vote has increased from 9% to 17.7% since 2005.

The trend is clear therefore, that barring the unexpected (Or, of course, “events”) Sinn Féin is in a position to overhaul the SDLP as the the largest nationalist party, if not at this election, certainly by the next electoral cycle. It’s a question of when, rather than if.

The overall Nationalist vote, however, has remained essentially static. The two trends that have emerged are the shift in balance between the SDLP and SF, and the growth of the smaller parties. Alliance have doubled their percentage vote over the period but remained largely static since 2010. The Greens have also done very well, increasing from 3% in 2010 to 9.9% in 2017.

Outwith those two, the intra Unionist battle is clearly being won by the DUP who are now gathering votes at a ratio of 2:1 versus the Ulster Unionists. Nevertheless the overall Unionist vote has decreased from 51.1% to 31.9% – a staggering 20% drop in twelve years.

As a number cruncher myself, I must admit to an academic interest but as a republican I must also admit to an emotional and political interest.

There are three clear interesting elements to this election, the inter-nationalist SF v SDLP vote, the broader Nationalist V Unionist result and the issue of how the wider vote fragments among other parties.

The infuriating point of FPP elections is, of course, that it focusses things in a very black and white way. The ultimate sectarian headcount if you’ll forgive me that phrase. For example, in 2017 Green Party transfers broke 70% for the two main nationalist parties – 40% of them went to SF.

Given the nature of this election, a number of questions present themselves:

Will the fragmented voters among the smaller parties actually vote, and if they do, who will they vote for?
Will the big ticket issues impact on voters? – Brexit, Stormont reignition, Equality issues, Political competence?
Will the politically smart and diverse electorate in South Belfast withdraw to the traditional barricades?
Regarding the Intra Nationalist battle – can Máirtín win?

In my opinion, yes he can but for that to happen it’ll require two things to happen.

It will require sufficient SDLP voters to shift their votes in the belief that Máirtin can beat Alasdair to take Mairtin over about 25%. In other words he needs to find 4000 votes above his 2015 total or 2000 above the May 2017 performance.

It will also require voters in the smaller parties to vote SF.

Given the rapid rate of demographic change in South Belfast it will be interesting to see how the vote coalesces this time around.

If, and it’s a big if, he can maintain the momentum he has built over recent elections. Yes Mairtin can win this but the odds are currently not in his favour.

The most recent Lucid talk poll gives the SDLP a 60% chance of retaining the seat with  the DUP as the likely winners if they don’t.

The SDLP are clearly pitching their hopes of retaining the seat on a campaign built upon the local popularity of Claire Hanna and the benefits of being the incumbent MP.

I am personally yet to be persuaded as to the benefits of any MP from hereabouts actually taking a seat in Westminster, not to mention taking an oath to an unelected monarch. I am unaware of a single instance of any elected MP from here materially affecting any piece of legislation passing through Westminster.

For me, South Belfast will be the one to watch on the night of June 8th.

Game Changer?

We face into yet another election which, I suspect, few want just now.

The key question is if the previously dormant nationalist leaning electorate will turn out again.

There is a text and and a subtext to this one. The text is the Brexit mini referendum and the subtext, as always, is the nationalist v unionist headcount.John Finucane

Momentum is key in politics and I have no doubts where the momentum lies just now.

The selection of John Finucane in North Belfast is a potential game changer. The SDLP pattern of simply attacking SF will be laid bare if they go for this one. I hope they don’t but you never know.

Just a thought but the potential for 7 unionist out of 18 MP’s is now live.




Democracy; An inconvenient truth?

A guest blog by Carrickally

(For newer readers, Carrickally is our resident Unionist writer) The picture in this piece was chosen by me and not Carrickally by the way, I have no wish to detract from or imply anything from his piece below.  

A strange point of view to take, you might think.  But i now reside in a part of the world where democracy is not an experience for those around me.  There are many, not just those born here, who have never known a democratic process; expat Arabs, some Africans, some Asians.

The publicity points out a low crime rate, that things get done, that there is no taxation and tolerance is all around.  Wouldn’t it be great if NI, or the rest of the island of Ireland or the rest of the British Isles was like that?  None of thise pesky carjackers, the rapid transit buses would already be whizzing around, we wouldn’t have to worry about a third of our pay packets going on tax and national insurance and we would all have a great life without walls separating leisure and school facilities!Marriage equality

Of course, even a cursory glance at the news here provides rapes, murders, trafficking, drug abuse and bribery.  A look at building site accidents and the worker camps shows that unskilled servitude leads to literal cracks in the shiny facades.  Sniff around to see utility bills five times higher for Johnny Foreigner, visa renewals that cost hundreds of pounds, bureaucratic procedures that must be paid for and medical insurance that must be bought; add on schooling and the net results squeaks up towards the third (on average) taken off our gross pay.  As for tolerance; the number of times I have heard praise for the man with the funny moustache and Endlösung…

I am not denying i have a good quality of life: better than at home.  I won’t deny i am a privileged expat and it is grossly insulting to the true hardship of those who work 70 hours per week for a fraction of my salary and with none of the benefits my company provide.  And it would certainly stick in my craw to suggest that there is some universal and stereotypical malaise in this neck of the woods.

What does shame me is that we dont realise just how lucky we are to have a level of individual freedom in the group of islands off Northwest Europe that allows us to voice our thoughts, organise gatherings to work towards improved conditions and have the ability to veer from the societal norms without being stoned into line.

And then i realise that we were all on that journey.  You could argue 400 years ago, 100 years ago or even we are still not truly free due to equality issues.

And that brings me back to democracy.

The power of change is there, for good or ill.

Use it and hope that it is for the former.  Be willing to protect it from the latter.

We go again

Well I didn’t anticipate this.

We go again to the polls.

Horseman would have loved these days I think, the playing out of the endgame of the demographic chess game that formed the statelate in the north east of Ireland.

I am very aware of the sensitivities  around where we are but I must admit I feel a certain sense of vindication regarding how far we how have come

We have three  things now to consider:

Will the Unionists parties coalesce?

Will the nationalist electorate remain resolute in turnout?

Is this a turning point?


My opinion is yes to all three questions.

This is only going in one direction.

Bring it on

Talking of Horseman…………..

As has been mentioned in the comments recently, the legendary Horseman’s predictions are gradually playing out in the real world and proving incredibly accurate. In that spirit what followsSt Patricks Day 2017 dancers is Fahas analysis of the latest release of the schools census data.

If I may, I’d like to thank all those who take the time to comment here. That is the reason this blog keeps going. In addition we have many readers who don’t comment but the figures continue to amaze me. 1,600 a day on average is a very respectable readership.

Go raibh maith agat agus lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh


The data for the 2016 School Census was released recently. This data was obtained in October 2016 for all Primary, Secondary and Special Schools in Northern Ireland. These records are available as far back as 2000 so I have compiled and compared the data for that 17 year time period. Here is the yearly data for the question on religion for students in each year.

Schools Census 2000-2016

The obvious and main trend is the steady decline of the Protestants in the student age groups. The Catholic percentage has increased slightly over the 17 year time period. There has been a small increase in non-Christians and those with No Religion has doubled from 4.9% to 9.8% during that time period. There also has been a significant increase in the Other Christian group who now constitute 3.42% of all students.

Who are these Other Christians? In the looking at the detailed 2011 Census Religion information by denomination and accounting for the recent increase in Romanian and Bulgarian nationals it appears that approximately 0.5% are Eastern Orthodox (EU nationals). Of the remaining 2.9% it appears that 1.75% can be accounted for as non-denominational Protestants or other Christian related religions such as Mormons. That leaves 1.15% remaining. Of note is that while Other Christians are only 3.42% of the student population they make up 25% of students in integrated schools.

Many of these are probably children of mixed marriages and children of Protestant and Catholics who are not affiliated with a church or parish. I estimate that of the total 3.42% that 0.5% are Eastern Orthodox, 0.5% of Catholic background and 2.5% of Protestant background. In the school census there are also 9.83% with No Religion or Not Recorded. The 2011 census category for Religion Brought in did not have a Not Recorded category but comparing the two I estimate that most of the 9.83% (at least 9.0%) with No Religion Not Recorded are actually No Religion.

There are probably a small number of non-denominational Protestants. There are also a few Catholics who are Not Stated since they wish to not reveal their religion status in State schools in order to avoid potential harassment.

Taking all these factors into account I estimate the Catholic population at 52%, the Protestant population at 37.5%, Non-Christian or Eastern Orthodox at 1.25% and No Religion at 9.25%. The Protestant student population is declining at 0.4% per year and by 2021 will be only 35%.

That year will be the 100th anniversary of the founding of Northern Ireland. The irony in that 35% is that in 1921 that was the percentage of the Northern Ireland population that was Catholic.

All these students will eventually be voters and based on the recent Assembly election approximately 51% would vote for nationalist parties, 37% for unionist parties and 12% for non-sectarian parties. Every year from 2017 on will add a new voter cohort where there will be a 15% gap between nationalist and unionist parties.

The unionist parties do not appear to be aware of this large gap between nationalist and unionist votes that will occur into the future with no end in sight. The recent Assembly election may have alerted some unionists to this fact.


Winners and Losers – AE17 Analysis

Below is Fahas take on these ground breaking election results:

Now that the 2017 election is over it is time for an analysis of the results. Below are the actual results:

Faha 2017 changes

The total nationalist vote was up by 63,694 to its highest level in any election. The increase was mainly due to increased support for SF. The SF increase had 2 sources. These were previous SF voters who had not voted in recent elections and new voters who voted SF as a protest against Arlene Foster and the DUP. The SDLP vote was up but these were primarily SDLP voters who had not voted in recent elections rather than the protest vote. The Alliance vote was up dramatically and the transfer pattern indicates that the majority came from the Catholic community. The DUP vote was up 22,846. However, this is somewhat misleading since UKIP only competed in 1 constituency and there were fewer PUP, TUV and independent unionists candidates. The total for the minor unionist parties was down over 15,000 and it is likely that 12,000 or more of these voted DUP instead. Nevertheless, the DUP did manage to bring an additional 10,000 new voters. The UUP also had a nice vote increase though it did not result in any additional seats. The Green vote and PBP vote was unchanged despite a 109,000 increase in overall turnout.

As far as turnout is concerned the nationalist voter deficit no longer exists. These are the turnout figures by constituency and are based on the voting age population:

Faha Turnout2016-17

There are 3 constituencies: Foyle, West Belfast and South Belfast, where the nationalist turnout is much higher than unionist turnout. The lower nationalist turnout in South Down, Newry and Armagh, Mid Ulster and West Tyrone disappeared with nationalist turnout equal to unionist. This was directly responsible for the loss of 4 unionist seats in those constituencies. The nationalist turnout in East Antrim, Strangford, Lagan Valley, and East Belfast is still significantly below unionist turnout and resulted in the failure of SF in East Antrim and the SDLP in Strangford to win seats. Fermanagh South Tyrone had a 9% increase in nationalist turnout. It is lower than unionist turnout for 2 reasons. This constituency has the highest unionist turnout of all constituencies and there are also large numbers of EU nationals who vote at a lower rate. The latter also partly explains the lower nationalist turnout in Upper Bann. Overall, nationalist and unionist turnout is equal. It is possible that the nationalist turnout was 54% and the unionist turnout 57%. That is because the School Census indicates an undercount of the Catholic population by 1% which changes the turnout percentages. Native voter turnout is equal among nationalist and unionist voters and the lower nationalist turnout is due to lower turnout among foreign nationals.

These are the winners and loser in the election.


SF is obviously the #1 winner. Not only did their vote increase by 56,600 to a record level but they almost equalled the DUP total. Their net loss was only 1 seat despite a smaller Assembly with 18 fewer members. Particularly impressive was winning 3 seats in Newry and Armagh, Mid Ulster, West Tyrone and Fermanagh-South Tyrone. They also pulled ahead of the SDLP in Foyle and South Down.

Alliance is the #2 winner. They added 50% to their 2016 total and kept 8 seats despite an Assembly with 18 fewer members. Their totals increased throughout the west and they almost won a seat in South Down. Their only limitation is that they do not appear to have any potential for increased seats other than South Down.

The SDLP is the #3 winner. Their vote increase did keep pace with the overall increase in turnout. They won back a seat from SF in Upper Bann and unexpectedly won in Lagan Valley. They could have won 15 seats. They were within 67 votes of winning a seat in Fermanagh South Tyrone and 225 votes short in Strangford. They did not attract the anti DUP protest vote and their entire vote increase was due to previous stay at home SDLP voters.


The TUV, UKIP, PUP, Conservatives are the #1 losers. UKIP essentially decided not to compete and the overall vote for minor unionist parties and candidates decreased 15,000 with most of that vote going to the DUP. The anti SF unionist vote is increasingly going to the DUP. These parties would be better off merging with the DUP or disbanding.

The DUP is the #2 loser. It is true that they increased their vote by over 22,000 but the majority of that increase was due to lack of competition from the smaller unionist parties. However they lost 10 seats and only have 1 more seat than SF. They came very close to losing additional seats in Strangford and Foyle and only won those seats because to the failure of SF and Alliance and Green voters to transfer to the SDLP and PBP.

THE UUP is the #3 loser. Despite increasing their overall vote they lost 6 seats and the party leader resigned. They are in danger of having fewer seats than Alliance in future elections and only won Fermanagh South Tyrone due to SDLP transfers.

The Greens and PBP are the #4 losers. Despite a much higher turnout these parties were unable to increase their vote. There appears to be a ceiling to the Green vote though they did keep their 2 MLA’s. The PBP vote collapsed in West Belfast and their pro Brexit stance cost them votes. They also failed to compete in most constituencies.

Now I will look at each constituency in detail.


Both the SF and SDLP vote was up but twice as much for SF. PBP finished 660 votes behind the DUP for the final seat. However, there was an undistributed SDLP surplus of 158 votes would have narrowed that to only 500+. There were also 330 SF votes and over 500 Alliance votes that did not transfer to anyone so if these had voted tactically defeat the DUP they would have succeeded. Net loss 1 PBP.

I will now look at the 3 constituencies of West Tyrone, Mid Ulster and Newry-Armagh due to similar demographic and results.

West Tyrone

SF won 3 here and it was not even close as they were ahead of the UUP by 760 votes in the final count. There was also an undistributed SDLP surplus of 300 so the margin would have been higher. Net loss 1 UUP.

Mid Ulster

SF had over 3 quotas here. The SDLP finished 1,200 votes ahead of the UUP and there was an undistributed SF surplus of 270 which would have increased the margin further. Net loss 1 UUP.

Newry and Armagh

SF elected 3 here and their 3rd candidate (Murphy) was 1080 votes ahead of the UUP. There were 64 undistributed SF votes and 606 undistributed DUP votes but this would not have changed the outcome as Murphy still would have won by at least 540 votes. Net loss 1 UUP.

Fermanagh South Tyrone

SF won 3 here but it was very close. At stage 2 Sean Lynch of SF was 62 votes ahead of the SDLP and the SDLP was eliminated with the SDLP transfers electing all 3 SF as well the UUP. There were over 400 Alliance, Green and Labour votes that did not transfer to anyone and these lack of transfers to the SDLP cost them the seat. The one consolation is that some SDLP transfers elected the UUP and resulted in the defeat of Morrow of the DUP. Net loss 1 DUP and 1 SDLP. SF gain.

East Derry

Nationalist turnout was up very significantly from 34% to 50%. This resulted in an additional 3,300 votes for SF, 1,300 for SDLP candidates and another 800 for PBP and Alliance. The media claimed this was a close election with 2 nationalist seats in doubt. However, with a total nationalist electorate of 40% this was never in doubt. There was also the narrative that it was UUP transfers that saved the SDLP. However, in any election there are always UUP transfers to the SDLP. The UUP transfers to the SDLP were up only 338 from 2016 and 100 of these were probably Alliance votes that transferred through the UUP. There were 382 transfers to the SDLP from Claire Sugden and 565 from the DUP. In the end the SDLP defeated the one of the SF candidates by 853 votes but even without the DUP transfers (some of which were tactical) the SDLP would have won. Net loss 1 DUP.

Upper Bann

The nationalist vote was up 10% here with an additional 3,000 for SF, 800 for the SDLP and another 800+ voting Alliance. Again, the media portrayed the win for the SDLP as due to UUP transfers. However, at stage 4, before any UUP transfers came into play, the SDLP were already ahead of Toman of SF by 217 votes. When Dobson of the UUP was eliminated most of her votes went to the UUP but 678 went to the SDLP and 55 to SF. The fact that so many went to SF and the SDLP rather than the UUP indicates that many of the 600+ Alliance-Green that went to Dobson actually subsequently transferred to the SDLP and SF. At that point the SDLP was 873 votes ahead of SF and the transfers of the UUP surplus (Beattie) added another 1864 to that margin. Net loss 1 UUP and 1 SF. SDLP gain.


South Down

The main story here was the massive increase in the SF vote by 6,300 which was totally unexpected. The Alliance Party also doubled their vote from2,200 to 4,500. There was never any possibility of a UUP seat. This was another example where it was thought that a large number of UUP votes would transfer to the SDLP. When the UUP was eliminated 2/3 of their transfers went to the DUP and of the other 1/3 more transferred to Alliance than the SDLP. The SDLP only received 13% of UUP transfers. In the end SF transfers saved the SDLP and they won over Alliance by 738 votes. Net loss 1 UUP.

North Antrim

There was a large increase in the nationalist turnout from 36% to 50% but the unionist turnout was also up. There was never a chance for a SDLP seat here with only 5 seats as the demographics do not exist for 2 nationalist seats. Net loss 1 DUP.

South Antrim

Nationalist turnout was up from 37% to 53% with SF adding 2,300 and the SDLP 650. There was also an Alliance increase of over 2,100. Since the Alliance increase far exceeded the SDLP increase Alliance won easily. Net loss 1 UUP.

East Antrim

The nationalist turnout increased from 35% to 46% but the unionist turnout was also up 5%. SF lost their seat here due to the higher quota with only 5 seats. Some have claimed that with better transfers from the SDLP they would have won. It is true that only 1/3 of SDLP transfers initially went to SF. Subsequent Alliance transfers that originated from the SDLP increased that to ½. Even if another 500 transfers went to SF from the SDLP, SF would have still been 1,000 votes behind the UUP. The only way that SF could have won would be with a nationalist turnout equal to unionist turnout. The UUP picked up a seat due to an additional 2,000 1st preferences. Net loss 1 SF and 1 DUP. UUP gain.

Lagan Valley

The big story here was the SDLP win and nationalist turnout was up from 33% to 44%. Supposedly the SDLP won because of UUP transfers. Apparently Jenny Palmer has been subject to abuse (online and otherwise) because of her alleged role in the defeat of the DUP and election of the SDLP. However, there is no electoral evidence that she helped the SDLP in a greatly significant way compared to historical transfer patterns. When she was eliminated only 309 of her 5095 votes went to the SDLP (6%) and at least 50 of those originated from the Greens and independents. Over 70% of her transfers went to the UUP and 12% to the DUP so her votes stayed in the unionist community. Butler of the UUP then had a surplus of 3,525 of which 41% transferred to the DUP and 31% to the SDLP. The SDLP transfers are up from historical patterns. Usually when a UUP candidate is eliminated from a Belfast area constituency the DUP receive 55% to 60% and the SDLP 20% to 25% of transfers with 20% not transferring to either. The SDLP won by 433 votes so the UUP transfers at the higher rate to the SDLP did make a difference but it was the reluctance of UUP voters to give the DUP any preference that mattered more. Net loss 2 DUP. SDLP gain.


Low nationalist turnout cost the SDLP a seat here. Nationalist turnout did increase from 35% to 44% but unionist turnout increased from 48% to 56%. At the final count the SDLP lost to the DUP by 225 votes. The UUP transfers went equally to the SDLP and DUP but 60% of UUP vote did not transfer. There were not enough additional SF and Green non transfers (only 140) to potentially close the gap. Low nationalist turnout cost the SDLP a seat and even a 1% increase in turnout would have made the difference. Net loss 1 UUP

North Down

The main surprise here was the large increase in the nationalist turnout though most of those additional voters voted Green or Alliance. When the Alliance surplus was distributed 55% went to the Greens but the other split 60% unionist and 40% nationalist. I estimated low that 30% of the Alliance vote originated from the Catholic community (historically it is 20%)) but it could have been 40%. Net loss 1 DUP.

East Belfast

No surprises with Alliance winning 2. Net loss 1 DUP.

North Belfast

Total turnout was up 5,000 but it was 3,800 nationalist and 1,000 Alliance. The DUP had a major embarrassment since Nelson McCausland of the DUP was behind Alliance at stage 5 and was eliminated. SF finished 556 ahead of Alliance to secure their 2nd seat. Net loss 1 DUP.

West Belfast

SF won 4 with near perfect balancing. The PBP vote was down significantly but Carroll was still near a quota when the SDLP was eliminated. The SDLP was eliminated because they were 353 votes behind the DUP after stage 2. The total unionist vote was up 130 and the lack of transfers from the UUP and Alliance meant that the SDLP was behind the DUP. In order to win they needed to be ahead of the DUP and then receive 20% of unionist transfers to be ahead of the 4th SF. Net loss 1 SDLP.

South Belfast

SF topped the poll and total turnout was up 6,300. 4,000 of those were nationalist voters with most of the remainder additional Alliance and Green voters. The DUP had no chance of winning 2 here and indeed both their candidates were behind the UUP on the 2nd to last count. The Greens were 1,542 votes ahead of the UUP in the final count but there were 1,490 undistributed DUP surplus so the final result would have been much closer. Net loss 1 DUP.

The nationalist voter apathy that has existed for at least 10 years no longer exists. At this point it is not certain that there will be a new government formed between SF and the DUP at Stormont. The DUP can concede few concessions to SF. If it does otherwise it would be an admission of defeat and would outrage their voter base. The alternative for the DUP is direct rule from London. This would be more than acceptable for the DUP since direct rule is Conservative Party rule with Theresa May instead of Margaret Thatcher. There would be no nationalist input into the governing of Northern Ireland which if fine from the DUP perspective. SF cannot go into government without major concessions from the DUP. To do so otherwise would alienate those additional 56,000 voters who voted SF mainly as a protest against the arrogance of the DUP. At any other time in history SF would object to direct rule. This time may be different. It is in Sinn Fein’s interest to have direct rule by the Conservative Party. The Conservatives will implement Brexit and possible harsh budget cuts for Northern Ireland. In 2 years this would only increase the likelihood of favourable Border Poll result. What would be the results of a Border Poll? It is somewhat speculative at this time but there are some clues from the recent Lucid Talk poll and the actual election results. The Lucid Talk poll has been very accurate for 3 consecutive elections. They obtain their results from a panel that fits the demographics of Northern Ireland. The same voters who were polled on Assembly voting intentions were also polled on preferences for a United Ireland in December 2016. In that poll 95% of nationalist voters are in favour of a United Ireland if Brexit occurs. Only 9% of unionist voters were in favour of a United Ireland if Brexit occurs. The results for Alliance-Green voters were not released. So of the 42.1% of voters who voted for nationalist candidates 40% of that total are in favour of a United Ireland if Brexit occurs. Of the 45.7% of voters who voted for unionist candidates 4% are in favour of a United Ireland if Brexit occurs. The total vote is 44% in favour of a United Ireland and 44% against a United Ireland if Brexit occurs. How the Alliance and Green voters would vote is unknown but it is known from Lucid Talk that 85% of Alliance and Green voters are opposed to Brexit. These voters were 12% of the electorate in the recent election.

The nationalist parties need to begin the negotiation process with EU officials and the Irish government on how to integrate Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland. From the EU perspective they will be supportive as they have no incentive to give concessions to the UK in the pending Brexit negotiations. The EU was very supportive when East Germany merged with West Germany. Northern Ireland has only 10% of the population of East Germany. Overall, Ireland is less than 2% of the population of the EU and the EU should be able to help with the financial and trade adjustments that would occur with a United Ireland. From the nationalist perspective it is important to persuade as many Alliance, Green and unionist voters of the benefits of a United Ireland. I recall one Northern Ireland opinion poll on a United Ireland from 15 years ago. The question of a United Ireland was broken down by religious preference. For Catholics, 15% to 20% preferred to remain in the UK. For Protestants 97% preferred to remain in the UK. This poll did ask a unique question for the Protestant voters (not asked of Catholics though). They were asked if a United Ireland was preferred, “acceptable”, “tolerable”, or “unacceptable”. Not surprisingly 60% answered “unacceptable” and 25% “tolerable”. However, 12% answered “acceptable”. It appears that 12% are now in favour of a United Ireland because of Brexit. Including the 3% that were in favour of a United Ireland, 15% of Protestants were in favour or thought it was “acceptable”. That would be 8% of the 53% of voters from the Protestant community who voted in this Assembly election. 4% of those were voters for unionist candidates and 4% voted Alliance or Green. Those are the voters from the Protestant community that the nationalist voters should be targeting in a United Ireland referendum. There is no point in targeting the 60% who consider a United Ireland “unacceptable” though it would be worth persuading those 25% who consider a United Ireland “tolerable”.


A border poll will bring out many more voters than the Assembly election. It will probably be 80% of the voting age population if it was held in 2020. That would be 1,200,000 voters or 400,000 more than the Assembly. These are mainly voters that have limited interest in politics. The turnout will not be greater than 80%. The GFA referendum had an 80% turnout of the voting age population. Even though the GFA meant the end of 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland 20% of the voting age population could not be motivated to vote. The Scottish referendum on independence also had an 80% turnout of the voting age population. Even though this was a vote on independence 20% of the population could not be motivated vote.

One alternative that has not been mentioned if there is no agreement to create a new government at Stormont would be to change the GFA so a government could be formed. This would involve abolishing community designations, abolishing mandatory power sharing, no weighted majorities and no petition of concern and only a First Minster and no Deputy First Minister. The resulting government would be a loose voluntary coalition. Instead of Arlene Foster as a First Minister, SF and the SDLP could nominate Naomi Long or Stephen Agnew as First Minister. The vote would be 50 to 40 and Arlene Foster would lose. If there was a vote on an Irish Language Act or same sex marriage the vote would be 50 to 40 and the measures would pass.

Something to think about as an alternative to the current unstable setup.