This final analysis of the new district councils will cover the new Belfast council. The new Belfast council includes all of the current Belfast council as well as adjoining areas from the current Lisburn, Castlereagh and North Down councils. Approximately 85% of the population of the Dunmurry Cross DEA, 40% of the Castlereagh West DEA, 25% of the Castlereagh East DEA and almost the entire Castlereagh Central DEA were transferred to Belfast City Council. A small section of the Drumbo ward was also transferred to Belfast as well as a small section of the Loughview ward from North Down. The demographic breakdown of the new Belfast council is 48.82% Catholic, 42.47% Protestant, 1.57% Other and 7.14% None. The demographics of the current Belfast council are 48.58% Catholic, 42.30% Protestant, 1.72% Other and 7.4% None. The new council will be 0.24% more Catholic and 0.17% more Protestant than the current Belfast. This is a very minor change. There was much speculation over the decisions made by the Boundary Commission on the new boundaries for Belfast. The DUP final council proposals transferred the 3 councils of Armagh, Limavady and Moyle to unionist control and some concluded that SF agreed to the new Belfast boundaries in a carve up. However, it is unlikely that the new boundaries in Belfast have anything to do with an agreement in the Executive between SF and the DUP. The new boundaries of Belfast show a net gain of only 0.07% in the Catholic population versus the Protestant population and it is unlikely that SF would have agreed to a net 0.07% increase in the nationalist electorate (approximately 70 votes out of 100,000 votes) in exchange for transferring those 3 councils to unionist control. Due to the importance, size and complexity of the Belfast council I am dividing this analysis into 4 separate sections: North, West, South and East. This initial one will cover the North Belfast DEA’s of Castle and Oldpark. The following shows the change in the turnout for the nationalist and unionist parties comparing the 2005 and 2011 district council elections.
The election turnout for the 2005 and 2011 elections indicate:
#1 There was a moderate decline in turnout between the 2005 and 2011 elections.
#2 Nationalist turnout was slightly higher than unionist turnout in the Oldpark DEA for both elections.
#3 In the Castle DEA nationalist turnout was 12% higher than unionist turnout in the 2005 election. There was a greater decline in nationalist turnout between 2005 and 2011 so that nationalist turnout was only 6% higher than unionist turnout in 2011.
The change in the party vote between 2005 and 2011 is as follows:
There would be no change in the election results with the new boundaries based on the 2011 turnout. Is there any possibility this could change in 2014? In the Castle DEA in 2011 the quota was 1433 and the final count showed:
2011 (quota 1433) 2011new boundaries (quota 1516)
Browne (UUP) 1440 1520
Patterson (DUP) 1433 1516
Spence (DUP) 1529 1516
Campbell (SF) 1335 1516
Cunningham (SF) 1433 1516
Convery (SDLP) 1433 1516
Mullaghan (SDLP) 1256 1343
In 2011 all 3 unionist candidates reached a quota with a surplus of a 103 undistributed votes and 1 SF and 1 SDLP candidates were short of a quota. If the 2011 election had been contested on the new boundaries there would have been approximately 430 more nationalist and 150 more unionist votes and the quota would have increased to 1516. All 3 unionists would have reached a quota as well as both SF candidates. The 2nd SDLP candidate would have lost by only 187 votes. How is 2014 any different? There have been continuing demographic changes in the previous 3 years. Between 2001 and 2011 the Catholic population increased 0.5% per year and the Protestant population declined 1% per year. If that trend continued the Catholic electorate would be 1.5% higher and the Protestant electorate 3% lower in 2014. With over 10000 voters, theoretically the demographic changes could add 150 nationalist votes with perhaps 250 fewer unionist votes. If that were to occur, a 2nd SDLP candidates would be elected and 1 unionist candidate would be over 200 votes short a quota. Turnout will be crucial here. The SDLP and SF will need to stabilize or increase nationalist turnout. There are also 1700 ethnic nationals of voting age of which 900 were on the December 2013 electoral register. The SDLP will need to also target these voters to maximize the possibility of a 2nd seat as well as transfers from independents, Alliance and NI21. NI21 will take some 1st preference votes from the UUP and not all of these may return to the UUP. The SDLP and SF have until May 6th to register more voters. This could be a very close election for the 6th seat due to the boundary and demographic changes since 2011.
In the Oldpark DEA, the situation is different. Here the boundary changes have decreased the nationalist electorate by 1% and increased the unionist electorate by 1%. There have been demographic changes here also between 2001 and 2011 such that the demographic changes have probably evenly offset the boundary changes. Is it possible for SF to win a 4th seat here with the same electorate as 2011? In the 2011 election the results were:
2011 2014 Theoretical
SF 5615 51.68% 6115 53.34%
SDLP 1184 10.90% 1284 11.20%
Nationalist 525 4.83% 525 4.58%
Alliance 303 2.79% 303 2.64%
UUP 540 4.97% 540 4.71%
DUP 2697 24.83% 2697 23.53%
In 2011 it would have taken a combined nationalist vote of 71.4% for 5 quotas. The combined nationalist vote was 67.4% and with Alliance transfers it would have been 69.4%. Both DUP candidates barely reached a quota. If in 2014 there were 600 more nationalist voters then the combined nationalist vote would be 69.12% and with Alliance transfers 71.1%. Since some UUP votes would transfer to the SDLP the final DUP vote would only be 27.6%, 1% short of 2 quotas. The SDLP can reach a quota of 14.3% on Alliance, UUP and independent nationalist transfers. SF could reach 4 quotas of 57.2% on independent nationalist transfers and Alliance transfers (0.25% in 2011). Unfortunately for SF, the IRSP received 3.5% of the independent nationalist vote and 2.5% of that refused to transfer to SF or the SDLP. In 2014, the SDLP need to stabilize their vote and add perhaps 100 and target independent nationalist, Alliance and UUP transfers. There are also 1400 ethnic nationals of voting age of which 700 were on the December 2013 electoral register. The SDLP needs some of those voters and they have until May 6th to register more. SF needs to bring out an additional 500 voters for a 4th seat. They cannot do this by focusing only on their traditional republican base. They also need to target ethnic voters. Most important of all, they need to persuade the dissident republican voters who are unwilling to transfer to any nationalist candidate to give them a 2nd preference. For some odd unknown reason, these voters prefer to see a DUP candidate elected rather than a 4th SF candidate. This is not seen on the unionist side. There are TUV and PUP candidates standing and almost all of their transfers will make their way to the DUP. Unlike Castle DEA, where the boundary changes and demographic changes suggest an additional nationalist seat, the Oldpark DEA will require at least 600 additional nationalist voters, AND a willingness from dissident republican voters to defeat a DUP candidate, for an additional nationalist seat.