This 3rd analysis by Faha of the new district councils will cover the Armagh-Banbridge-Craigavon council.
This new council encompasses all of the current Armagh and Craigavon councils, most of the current Banbridge council (except most of the Ballyward ward) and small sections of the Killyman and Moy wards of Dungannon council. The religious demographic breakdown is 51.74% Protestant, 42.95% Catholic, 0.8% Other and 4.52% None. This configuration of the council was not the original one. The original 7 council plan devised by the Boundary Commission included the Newry and Mourne council. When the Stormont Assembly was reconvened in 2007 SF supported the original 7 council proposal. The DUP was strongly opposed to this plan. With the inclusion of the overwhelmingly nationalist Newry council this would have been a nationalist majority council. The DUP found it unacceptable to transfer the unionist populations of Craigavon, Banbridge and Armagh to nationalist control. Therefore, they devised an alternative 11 council proposal, which removed Newry council from the original proposal. Instead of the transferring the entire unionist populations of Craigavon, Banbridge and Armagh to a nationalist controlled council a much more desirable outcome was achieved- the nationalist population of Armagh council was transferred to this new unionist majority council. SF supported the DUP proposal in the Executive and declined to use their veto (much to the surprise and delight of the DUP) and the DUP pulled off a major gerrymandering coup.
The following shows the change in the turnout for the nationalist and unionist parties comparing the 2005 and 2011 district council elections.
For the current Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district councils there are some obvious conclusions from this data.
#1 There was a large decrease in turnout between the 2005 and 2011 elections that affected both nationalist and unionist voters.
#2 Turnout is higher in rural areas compared to urban areas.
#3 Unionist turnout is significantly higher than nationalist turnout in all 3 Banbridge DEA’s.
#4 Unionist turnout and nationalist turnout in Armagh was equal in all 4 DEA’s in 2005. There was a large decline in nationalist turnout in The Orchard and Cusher DEA’s in 2011, such that unionist turnout was much higher in 2011.
#5 Unionist turnout is much higher than nationalist turnout in 3 of the Craigavon DEA’s, the exception is Loughside.
#6 For the new council, over 4,000 additional nationalist voters would have to vote in order to equal unionist turnout.
The percentage change in the party vote between 2005 and 2011 is as follows:
In Armagh there was a large decline in the DUP vote, mainly in the Cusher DEA. Half of this decline was due to a DUP councilor standing as an independent and the other half a defection of voters to the UUP. There was a slight decline in the overall nationalist vote in the 3 rural DEA’s but a larger decline in both the nationalist and unionist vote in Armagh City. However, there was a large decline in nationalist turnout in the rural DEA’s despite little change in the nationalist vote. What is happening here is similar to what happened in Dungannon. There has been a large immigration of ethnic nationals into Armagh City and native Catholics and Protestants have moved to the rural areas (and also from Newry Town and Portadown). The decline in the unionist turnout is occurring in the context of a unionist electorate that is growing only slightly. The nationalist electorate is growing rapidly in the rural areas and there is no longer any net emigration. Despite the large increase in the nationalist electorate, they do not vote, which is why the turnout is declining so rapidly.
In Banbridge, the overall number of nationalist votes increased between 2005 and 2011. The turnout decreased dramatically because there has been a large increase in the nationalist electorate. Catholic voters are no longer emigrating and there has been a large influx from Newry Town, Portadown, Craigavon, Lurgan and even Belfast (in the Dromore area). The DUP vote is also down by a large amount as they are losing votes to the UUP, TUV and stay at home voters. The decline in the SDLP vote in Banbridge Town is misleading since there were no SF candidate in 2005 and 1 SF and 1 former SF candidates in 2011.
In Craigavon, the situation is more complex. Much of the increase in the nationalist electorate in the Portadown and Craigavon DEA’s is due to the arrival of ethnic nationals, many of whom are Catholic. The decline in turnout among native Catholics is probably no greater than that for native Protestants in these DEA’s. Unlike Armagh and Banbridge, the SDLP vote has collapsed here. The UUP and DUP vote has also collapsed here, with the former staying home and the latter defecting to the TUV. There was no UUP candidate in Loughside in 2011 so the increased DUP vote includes UUP voters who had no other choice but to vote DUP.
The new council is also notable for the large foreign national population. There are approximately 11,000 adult foreign nationals of which 5,500 were on the December 2013 electoral register. Whichever nationalist party that is able to effectively target these voters will have an advantage in the election.
The new DEA’s bear little resemblance to the old DEA’s (see map).
ArmaghCity has been combined with most of Crossmore and Cusher has added half of The Orchard. BanbridgeTown and Knockiveagh have been combined. Most of Loughside has been combined with half of Lurgan with the Donaghcloney and Waringstown wards of the latter going into Dromore in the new Lagan River DEA. The demographics of the new DEA’s are as follows: The predicted election results are based on the 2011 turnout.
The current Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon councils had this party makeup after the 2011 elections.
SF 16 SDLP 9 Alliance 2 UUP 19 DUP 18 Unionist 1
The expected party strength in the new council based on 2011 turnout and the new DEA boundaries:
SF 9 SDLP 6 Alliance 0 UUP 11 DUP 14 Unionist 1
The new council will have 25 fewer councilors and the net party loss would be.
SF -7 SDLP -3 Alliance -2 UUP -8 DUP -4
The new DEA boundaries are neutral on the nationalist side but definitely beneficial to the DUP and detrimental to the UUP on the unionist side. The new DEA boundaries, unlike the boundaries of the council itself, are actually favourable to the nationalist parties.
The election results would be very different if nationalist turnout equaled unionist turnout. There would be 5 additional nationalist seats in Armagh (SF), Portadown (either SF or SDLP), Lurgan (SDLP), Banbridge (SDLP), and Lagan River (SDLP). The unionist loss in Banbridge could be to Alliance instead of the SDLP. The unionist parties would still be guaranteed 21 seats with an absolute majority.
This council, with the new DEA boundaries, will have a unionist majority for at least 40 years. While the nationalist parties could pick up additional seats in the DEA’s mentioned above, it would require an additional nationalist demographic increase of 12.5% to 16.7% to obtain additional seats in those 5 DEA’s. Even at 3% per decade per DEA it would still take 40 years. The new Craigavon DEA has a slight nationalist majority but the electorate would need to increase at least another 12% for another seat, a demographic change that will take at least 40 years. The Cusher DEA is short another seat by 10% and it will be 40 years before that gap is closed. The DUP should be congratulated for the perfect gerrymander in the creation of the council boundaries.