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.


The Counting day

After an electric election day we face the count now.

I’m opening this thread so that everyone can post whatever gossip or information they may have to share.

It appears that the nationalist electorate may have woken up finally and we could be in for a very interesting day.


Will we have Michelle as First Minister? (Not that that is important), Will the DUP go into meltdown? What happens next?

Lucid Talk are predicting an increase in the total nationalist vote to 40% with a 3% increase in the Alliance-Green vote and almost a 3% decrease in the unionist vote (46.6%). The entire decrease in the unionist vote is at the expense of the DUP. UUP voters are still unwilling to give their 2nd preferences to the DUP.

In last year’s Lucid Talk poll the nationalist vote was 1.5% higher than what was predicted. So the nationalist vote could be 41.5% and the unionist 45.5%.

That means Unionism is a minority in this juristiction.

Tomorrow might just be very interesting.


2017 Assembly Election – Faha’s view Part 2

This is the second part of my series on the constituency profiles for the March Assembly election. I will cover the 9 Belfast area constituencies.

In the previous week there has been one major political development. That is the public statement by the UUP leader Michael Nesbitt that he would give his 2nd preference to the voting.jpgSDLP after voting for the UUP 1st preference. He also stated that UUP voters should give their lower preferences to whichever candidates would be best for their constituency. His statements attracted much attention, comments and criticism. The criticism even came from within his own party. These are the actual 2nd preferences for voters as indicated in the recent Lucid Talk poll.



Michael Nesbitt is essentially following the preferences of UUP voters. Only 6% will give the DUP a 2nd preference and only 37% to any unionist party. Indeed, half of UUP voters would give the SDLP or Alliance Party their 2nd preferences. The transfer pattern for DUP and TUV voters are similar to recent elections. A significant change from 2011 is that no Alliance voters are willing to give the DUP a 2nd preference. Similar to UUP voters, SDLP voters are now much more willing to give cross community transfers to the UUP. Although 31% of SF voters claim they have no 2nd preference this is unlikely to occur in the actual election since most SF voters do have 2nd preferences. Although much publicity has been given to 2nd preferences it will actually have little influence in most constituencies outside of the Belfast area. In the 9 constituencies that I covered in the past week this is what one would expect. SF 2nd preferences will not matter in 8 constituencies. This is because SF is attempting to win 3 seats in 4, 2 seats in 4 and one seat in North Antrim. The only conceivably constituency where SF transfers could come into play would be East Derry, where the 2nd SF candidate could be eliminated and there would be a SF surplus. Similarly, the SDLP will have a surplus only in Newry and Armagh and the main obstacle for SF in winning 3 seats there is the low nationalist turnout. The UUP transfers will matter only in Foyle and possibly Upper Bann. This is because the UUP will be in the last count trying to elect one in every other constituency. The UUP transfers in Upper Bann (if they occur) could elect the SDLP and defeat SF. In Foyle, the lack of UUP transfers to the DUP could defeat the DUP and elect PBP.

Lucid Talk also did a sub tracker poll this past week where they asked the voters who voted in their January poll if they had changed who they would vote for. Lucid Talk determined that 9% of voters had changed their choice to a different party. The net effect compared to their January poll was approximately

Alliance    +1

Green       +0.5

PBP           +1.5

DUP           -2

SF              -1.5

It appears that SF is losing votes to PBP and there has been more losses for the DUP compared to the previous drop of 3.3% from the 2016 Assembly election. In practical terms the shift to PBP overestimates their increase because they are only competing in 6 constituencies. Since at most half of their potential electorate is in those 6 then their voters in the other 12 would choose other candidates or not vote.

I will attempt to take into account 2nd preferences in my analysis.



                               NORTH BELFAST

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
81,477 38,342 37,864 849 4,422
  47.06% 46.47% 1.04% 5.43%



New Quota      6,096

EU Referendum Turnout   39,972 (+3,424)

Remain        50.4%

Leave           49.6%

I believe North Belfast will elect 2 SF, 1 SDLP and 2 DUP. I came to this conclusion by looking at the final count in the 2016 election. In the final count these were the totals for the candidates






5,225 (5,345)






The SF vote underestimates what would be their actual final total in 2017 since Gerry Kelly had 120 of his surplus transfer to candidates other than SF. Both the DUP and SF have good balancing. In 2017 the quota is higher at 6,096 so no candidates would be elected until the Alliance candidate is eliminated and their transfers distributed. Since Alliance in 2016 was not eliminated until the last count we do not know where their transfers would go but there are clues from the 2011 election. IN 2011 the 2 SF and 1 SDLP candidates were already elected at the point where the Alliance candidate was eliminated and the Alliance transfers were DUP 20%, UUP 25%, nontransferable 55%. So 55% of Alliance voters were unwilling to give ANY preference to the DUP or UUP. Those 55% would be Alliance voters from a nationalist background who would have given preferences to the SDLP or SF. What we do not know is, of the 45% who did give a preference to the DUP or UUP, how many would have ranked the SDLP above the DUP or UUP. I estimate 10% would have given the SDLP a higher preference than the DUP or UUP. It could be a little higher, it could be a little lower. How was 2016 any different than 2011? Since 2011 there were the flag protests in Belfast and the Alliance Party was the subject of verbal and physical attacks from hardline unionism, including the DUP. We do not know how this exactly affected Alliance transfers to the DUP but we do have a clue from South Belfast. In 2016 at stage 11, the Alliance candidate Paula Bradshaw, had a surplus. 80% of that surplus went to the SDLP and Greens (almost equally), 15% went to the UUP and 5% to the DUP. In 2017 Alliance voters would be even less inclined to give the DUP any preference due to the pro Brexit position of the DUP and the RHI scandal. If this were 2011 we would expect that 2,500 of the Alliance voters would transfer to the SDLP (most likely) with a few to SF. Another 1,300 would have transferred to the UUP or DUP. The SDLP will easily receive the 1,250 Alliance transfers it needs to reach a quota and will likely have a surplus. Of the additional 1,250 Alliance transfers that are going in the direction of the SDLP or SF how many will give SF a preference? Since the Gerry Kelly vote would really be 5,345, even if only 800 give SF a preference then both SF candidates would be in the range of 5,400 to 5,700. It should be noted that the final Alliance vote of 3,836 includes almost 900 transfers from PBP, Greens, etc. who would likely give SF some preference. I doubt that more than 200 to 300 Alliance transfers will give any preference to the DUP. That is enough to put one candidate at a quota but the other 2 would be at 5,300 and 5,100 with the latter too far behind SF to be elected. My calculation does not take into account that the Lucid Talk poll indicated that some UUP voters this year are less willing to give any preference to the DUP so the actual DUP totals would be less on the final count. In 2016 the DUP received 60% of UUP transfers and it could be much less than 50% in 2017. Of course, I am not assuming any increase in nationalist turnout while the Lucid Talk poll does indicate an increased nationalist, Green and Alliance turnout. The DUP can only elect 2 in North Belfast since they will be starved for transfers from the Alliance Party and to a lesser extent the UUP.






                                     WEST BELFAST


All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
73,575 59,198 12,230 447 1,700
  80.46% 16.62% 0.61% 2.31%



New Quota      6,047

EU Referendum Turnout   31,191 (-5,059)

Remain        74%

Leave           26%

There will definitely be 3 SF and 1 PBP elected here. Whether the SDLP or SF win the 5th will be dependent on whether or not Alex Attwood is ahead of the DUP candidate in the next to last count. In 2016 the SDLP (4,430) was 90 votes ahead of the DUP in the final count and won the final seat. However, in 2017 there are only 5 seats so there is no possibility of a DUP win. It would seem that the SDLP would receive more than enough unionist transfers to win the 5th seat. SF has good balancing but the SDLP would only need 800 unionist transfers out of the total unionist vote of 4,340 to win the last seat. However, in 2017 this scenario may not occur. That is because the SDLP final vote includes an estimated 350 transfer votes from SF and the PBP. The SF transfers will not exist and PBP have fewer transfers available due to the higher quota. So the SDLP needs either more 1st preference votes or fewer DUP final votes that add up to 350. The SDLP can only win if they are ahead of the DUP in the next to final count. Now there will be fewer UUP, Alliance and Green transfers to the DUP this year (551 in 2016) so the DUP vote total will be less and some of those will transfer to the SDLP. It is not clear whether that 350 vote gap can be closed. Unionist turnout could be lower since there is no hope of a unionist seat with the higher quota. The 5th seat will come down to SF or the SDLP and will entirely depend on whether the SDLP are ahead of the DUP in the next to last count.

                                                       SOUTH BELFAST                                                                            

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
93,699 41,615 41,353 2,583 8,148
  44.41% 44.13% 2.76% 8.70%



New Quota      6,121

EU Referendum Turnout   44,556 (+7,860)

Remain        69.5%

Leave           30.5%

I believe South Belfast will elect 1 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance, 1 Green and 1 DUP. I come to this conclusion by looking at the stage 9 count in the 2016 election which was as follows:

SF                                     5,247 (5,400)

SDLP (Hanna)                 4,934

SDLP (McKinney)           3,057

Alliance                           5,729

Green                              4,524

UUP                                 3,272

DUP (Little-Pengelly)     5,073

DUP (Stalford)                4,368

The new quota is 6,121 so no one would be elected at that point. I estimate the actual SF vote at 5,400 since the Labour candidate with almost 1,000 votes was eliminated in the previous count but SF did not receive any of the potential transfers since the SF candidate had already reached a quota. Some of the Labour transfers would go to SF in 2017. The SDLP

candidate with 3,057 would then be eliminated and Hanna would be elected with a large surplus. Eventually her 3rd and lower preferences would come into play. However, Hanna only needs 1,200 of McKinney’s vote to reach quota and the other 1,850 votes would go to SF, Alliance and Green. SF would need 700 of those and Alliance only 400 so both would be elected. The Green candidate would then be at approximately 5,200. At this point the UUP would be eliminated and approximately 3,300 votes would be transferred. The Lucid Talk poll indicates that many UUP voters will now give their 2nd preferences to Alliance, Green and the SDLP instead of the DUP. The Green candidate only need 900 of those to reach a quota (27%) which will almost certainly occur. Even if all of the other 2,400 transfer to the DUP the 2nd DUP candidate would be over 400 votes short of a quota. The Green candidate would win even with only 700 transfers (20%). The DUP have the same problem here as in North Belfast where they are starved for transfers from non unionist parties and to some extent the UUP. There is an alternative scenario where the Alliance Party, or less likely the 2nd SDLP, could win the 5th seat. This was the vote totals at stage 8.

SF                                     5,247 (5,400)

SDLP (Hanna)                 4,738

SDLP (McKinney)           2,964

Alliance (Bradshaw)      3,570

Alliance (Morrow)         2,837

Green                               4,289

UUP                                  3,213

DUP (Little-Pengelly)    5,049

DUP (Stalford)               4,355

Both Morrow and McKinney are slightly behind the UUP. If the Alliance vote was more evenly balanced (and with 500 more 1st preference Alliance votes with a higher turnout) and the Alliance vote was higher than the SDLP then McKinney would be eliminated. After his transfers elected Hanna there would still be a surplus of 1,500 votes that would go to SF, the 2 Alliance and 1 Green candidates. SF would be close to a quota and there would be only 800 votes to transfer to Alliance and Green. When the UUP is eliminated then there would be 3,200 votes transferred. The Lucid Talk poll indicates that over 2,000 would go to the SDLP and Alliance with a few to the Greens. Since that poll indicates a much stronger 2nd preference for Alliance (23.7%) than Green (3.2%) then it is possible that both Alliance candidates could be ahead of the Green Party. The Greens still have the edge but a significant increase in Alliance 1st preferences and the willingness of UUP voters to transfer much more heavily to Alliance than the Greens could give Alliance 2. This is much less likely than the first scenario I presented. A similar scenario could occur with the SDLP. At stage 9 the 2nd SDLP was only 215 votes behind the UUP and if the 2nd SDLP were ahead of the UUP then the UUP candidate would be eliminated and many of the UUP transfers would end up with the SDLP candidates. There were also almost 8,000 additional pro EU voters who voted in the Brexit referendum and if these vote in any significant number the DUP cannot possibly win 2 seats.


                                             EAST BELFAST


All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
74,979 9,571 57,695 1,067 6,646
  12.76% 76.95% 1.42% 8.86%


New Quota      6,196

EU Referendum Turnout   42,646 (+5,490)

Remain        49%

Leave           51%

The result in East Belfast should be 2 DUP, 1 UUP and 1 Alliance. Alliance is short of 2 quotas but will receive enough Green and nationalist transfers to elect 2. It appears that with perfect balancing the DUP could edge out the UUP this will not occur. The UUP are at 11.1% but there is almost a 6% surplus of nationalist and Green potential transfers after 2 alliance are elected. There is also 13% for the smaller unionist parties that will transfer and the UUP received the equivalent of 4% in transfers from those parties in 2016.




                                       EAST ANTRIM

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
72,580 14,952 51,646 738 5,244
  20.60% 71.16% 1.02% 7.23%




New Quota      5,402

EU Referendum Turnout   41,545 (+9,153)

Remain        45%

Leave           55%

For East Antrim I looked at the stage 10 count to determine who will win the 5 seats. The new quota is 5,402.

Alliance                    5,234

UUP (Beggs)            4,708 (4,800)

UUP (Stewart)       2,622

DUP (Hilditch)      4,631 (5,400)

DUP (Lyons)          4,631 (5,000)

DUP (Ross)            3,108

UKIP (Jordan)        2,986

SF                            3,470

The numbers in parenthesis are the actual total for a 2017 election due to a higher quota and in 2016 these candidates had their surplus transferred. Stewart of the UUP would be eliminated and enough of his votes would transfer to Alliance (168 needed) to reach a quota. Most of the remainder would go to Beggs of the UUP and he would be elected. There would still be another 1,700 available for eventual transfer to the DUP or UKIP. In 2016 they did transfer 33% to DUP and 18% to UKIP with almost 50% not transferring. UKIP would be at 3,300 but there would be only 600 votes to transfer to the remaining 2 DUP candidates. Lyons could be at or just below a quota but Ross would also be at approximately 3,300. Either the DUP or UKIP would win the 5th seat on the others transfers most likely reaching a quota. SF would be 2,000 votes short of a quota. This is where UKIP has their best chance for a seat and poor balancing by DUP or fewer voters willing to transfer to the DUP could result in a UKIP win. Nationalist turnout is very low here but there were over 9,000 more voters who voted in Brexit and an estimated 4,000 were nationalist voters. If 2,500 of those vote in 2017 there would be a nationalist seat here. The difficulty for the SDLP winning here is that they need an additional 1,000 1st preference votes in order to be ahead of the 2nd Alliance candidate, whose transfers would put them ahead of SF.





                                                SOUTH ANTRIM

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
77,818 24,699 47,700 704 4,715
  31.74% 61.30% 0.90% 6.06%




New Quota      5,856

EU Referendum Turnout   43,553 (+8,430)

Remain        49.5%

Leave           50.5%

The DUP should elect 2 as their total vote is over 2 quotas. Even with a decline to less than 33.33% they would receive enough transfers from the smaller unionist parties to elect 2. The UUP are above 1 quota and will elect one. There will be 2 non unionist seats. Or will there be? At stage 5 in 2016 the vote was

SF               4,739

SDLP          3,547

Alliance     3,764

UUP            4,452

UUP            4,031

DUP            5,067

DUP            5,036

DUP            4,212

At the next stage in 2016 the SDLP was eliminated because they were 217 votes behind Alliance. If the SDLP end up with more votes than Alliance then Alliance would be eliminated and the SDLP would win a seat on transfers. However, there would not be enough Alliance transfers to elect SF also. A 2nd UUP would be elected on Alliance transfers and the DUP surplus. Nationalist turnout is very low here, 37% versus unionist 52%. An increase in nationalist turnout to 45% would add another 2,000 nationalist votes which would be more than enough to elect both the SDLP and SF. An additional 8,430 voters did vote in the Brexit referendum and it appears from that vote that at least 5,000 were nationalist voters.

                                                  LAGAN VALLEY

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
80,861 15,331 59,343 818 5,369
  18.96% 73.39% 1.01% 6.64%




New Quota      6,476

EU Referendum Turnout   48,414 (+9,572)

Remain        47%

Leave           53%

This is a difficult constituency to predict. From the 2016 vote it appears there would be 3 DUP elected since the DUP at 47.2% are close enough to 3 quotas to elect all 3 on transfers from the smaller unionist parties. The UUP would elect one and Alliance one. This was the stage 6 count in 2016

SDLP                           4,012

Alliance                      4,994

UUP                            5,004

UUP                            4,737

DUP                            5,635

DUP                           4,986

DUP                           4,518

DUP                           4,309

The SDLP were eliminated and in 2017 they have enough transfers to elect Alliance and one UUP. In 2016, 60% of SDLP transfers were eventually nontransferable to Alliance or the UUP. Lucid Talk indicates a greater willingness for SDLP voters to give the UUP a preference in 2017. However, there may not enough to elect 2 UUP. The lowest DUP candidate would then be eliminated and the total DUP vote is just shy of 3 quotas but certainly ahead of the 2nd UUP. The major difficulty in predicting 2017 is that there were 9,572 additional voters who voted in the Brexit referendum and from the results it appears they were all nationalist, Alliance, Green and a few pro EU UUP voters. Half were nationalist voters and nationalist turnout for Brexit was almost twice what it was for the Assembly election.  If only 3,600 of those vote in 2017 then everyone’s quota increases by 600 (new quota 7,100). If Alliance are then at 6,500 and the SDLP at 6,000 then the 2nd UUP is eliminated and Alliance and possibly the SDLP are elected on transfers. The SDLP 1st preference vote may be helped by two factors. The former Alliance MLA Seamus Close endorsed and signed Pat Catney’s nomination papers. There are also 2 Alliance councilors on the Lisburn Castlereagh council who recently resigned from the Alliance Party and endorsed Pat Catney. Michael Nesbitt the leader of the UUP has also publicly stated that he will give his own 2nd preference to the SDLP.



All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
72,001 12,496 53,673 684 5,148
  17.36% 74.54% 0.95% 7.15%




New Quota      5,440

EU Referendum Turnout   42,110 (+9,484)

Remain        44%

Leave           56%

In 2016 the final count was:

SDLP                            3,338

Alliance                       4,662 (4,624)

UUP (Nesbitt)            4,673

UUP (Smith)               3,958 (3,248)

DUP (Bell)                   4,663 (5,164)

DUP (Hamilton)         4,663 (4,983)

DUP (McIlveen)         4,663

The numbers in parenthesis represent what the actual totals would be with the higher quota. 2 DUP candidates had a significant surplus that transferred to the UUP. Smith of the UUP would be slightly behind the SDLP and his transfers (777) would elect Nesbitt. There would still be 2,471 UUP votes available to transfer and it is likely that Alliance would receive the 800 needed for a quota. Based on previous elections the SDLP would receive enough to reach 3,600 but would be far short of a quota. So there would be 3 DUP, 1 UUP and 1 Alliance elected. This is another constituency where the Brexit vote was much higher than the Assembly vote. An additional 9,500 voters voted in the Brexit referendum and it appears that they were mainly nationalist, Alliance, Green and pro EU UUP voters. At least 4,000 appear to be nationalist voters. Nationalist turnout was only 35% for the Assembly election. If 3,000 of those Brexit voters vote in 2017 the quota would be close to 6,000. The 1st scenario above where the 2nd UUP candidate is eliminated would then come into play but Alliance could already be at a quota with the additional voters. The SDLP could be at 4,500 to 5,000 prior to the UUP transfers and would likely be ahead of the 3rd DUP after UUP transfers. The role of Jonathan Bell of the DUP in revealing the extent of the RHI scandal could affect the DUP vote. Since he is a candidate he will be a constant reminder to voters of the RHI scandal. It is unlikely that many of his votes will transfer to the DUP. It is also possible that his allegations may result in fewer UUP transfers to the DUP. Michael Nesbitt has also publicly stated that he will give his next preference to the SDLP after the 2 UUP candidates. This is a shrewd move since if Joe Boyle is eliminated the bulk of the excess SDLP transfers could end up with the UUP after the Alliance candidate is elected and a 2nd UUP could be elected.


                                                     NORTH DOWN

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
72,633 9,420 55,164 870 7,179
  12.97% 75.95% 1.20% 9.88%




New Quota      5,372

EU Referendum Turnout   44,177 (+11,982)

Remain        52%

Leave           48%

North Down will elect 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance and 1 Green. The DUP vote is well above 2 quotas and even with a small decline in their vote would be above 2 quotas. The UUP are only 1% shy of a quota which they will receive on transfers from the smaller unionist parties. Alliance is at a quota and the Greens should reach a quota on SF, SDLP and Other transfers.


The final results will be strongly influenced by any change in turnout. If the exact same electorate votes that voted in the 2016 Assembly election then the worst case scenario for nationalist parties (SF, SDLP, PBP) is 34 seats with 47 unionist seats and 9 Alliance-Green. The electorate will be different in 2017. Lucid Talk has picked up increased interest among nationalist voters for this election and a slight decrease in interest among unionist voters. I estimate the unionist vote could be down by 5,000 due to disillusioned DUP voters who will stay home. That would bring the total vote down to 690,000. It is difficult to quantify how many more nationalist voters will vote this year. It is probably enough to increase the total vote to 700,000. I doubt the total vote will be anywhere near 800,000 which is what one would expect with all the Brexit voters voting this year. 750,000 is probably the maximum. However, even a decline of 5,000 unionist voters and an increase of 10,000 nationalist votes would have a profound effect on the outcome. There would then be 3 more additional nationalist seats, 1 more Green and 4 fewer unionist with a final result of 43 unionist, 37 nationalist and 10 Alliance-Green. If this were to occur then a government could be formed at Stormont if a few changes were made to the GFA. These would include:

Abolition of the Petition of Concern.

End community designation and cross community requirements for any votes.

Voluntary coalition with one First Minister elected.

No weighted majorities.

If these changes were made the Alliance and Green parties would hold the balance of power. Nationalist parties would have no objection to Stephen Agnew or Naomi Long as a First Minister. The DUP would object to both but would be unable to prevent their election since there would no longer be a unionist majority to do so.

The alternative is no government at Stormont and a return to direct rule. Since the Conservative Party will be in power at Westminster for a long time this would essentially be a return to unionist rule with no nationalist representation.

2017 Assembly Election – Faha’s view

Below is part one of Faha’s much anticipated analysis for the forthcoming Assembly elections – BD

Ballot Box

This is the first of my two part series on the constituencies for the March 2nd Assembly election. In this first series I will cover the 9 constituencies outside of the Belfast area. Here is some of the background I will go over prior to analyzing each constituency.

This chart shows the differential turnout between the Catholic and Protestant community background in the 2016 Assembly election. It is based on the 2016 constituency census data (extrapolated from the 2011 census) and the transfer pattern from nonsectarian parties. As you can see, with a few exceptions, most constituencies had a much lower turnout from the nationalist electorate compared to the unionist electorate. Overall nationalist turnout was 7% less than unionist turnout. If it had been equal to unionist turnout another 45,000 voters would have voted

2016 Assembly Election


This chart shows the difference in turnout for each constituency comparing the May 2016 Assembly election with the June Brexit referendum. In every constituency (except West Belfast) there was an increase in voter turnout for the Brexit referendum.

It is estimated at 110,000 more voters (the number in the chart is 96,209 but since EU nationals could not vote in the Brexit vote the 110,000 is the actual change) voted in the Brexit referendum. From the results it appears that most of those additional voters were nationalist, Alliance, Green and pro EU UUP voters. The pre-election  Lucid Talk poll, which predicted the final result to within 1%, indicated that 85% of nationalist, Alliance and Green voters were against Brexit and 85% of unionist voters were pro Brexit.

These Brexit results indicate that if an Assembly election had been held the same day then the   unionist parties would have received 44% of the vote and nationalist, Alliance and Green parties would have received 56% of the vote.

2016 Brexit Referendum

Faha 2017 Brexit.JPG

This chart shows the Lucid Talk polls from April 2016 and January 2017. I compared the April 2016 poll with the January 2017 poll and calculated the difference in the 3rd column. The last column indicates the difference between the January 2017 poll and the actual Assembly results from 2016. The Lucid Talk poll was very accurate in predicting the overall total vote for nationalist parties, unionist parties and nonsectarian parties. It underestimated the vote for the DUP and overestimated the vote for the UUP, Alliance and smaller unionist parties. Part of the underestimate for the DUP and overestimate for the smaller unionist parties is due to the fact that the smaller unionist parties did not compete in all constituencies. Thus, some of their voters choose the DUP instead by default. Keep in mind that the poll has a +/- accuracy of 3% so it compares very favourably with the actual results.

The January 2017 poll shows little change from the April 2016 poll. The only party change that may be statistically significant is the increase for PBP and possibly the decline for the UUP. All the other changes are too small to determine if they are actually real. However, the overall 3.76% decline for unionist parties is significant. Statistically, the real decline could be anywhere from only 0.76% to as high as 6.76%.

The January 2017 poll did note a few trends. Almost half mentioned the Health Service and RHI as important issues followed by Education, Equality and the Economy. Almost ¼ mentioned Brexit as an important issue followed by Irish Language and Irish Unity. It was also noted that a “large” number of DUP voters in 2016 said they would vote for other parties (primarily UUP) in this election. However, the actual poll results do not seem to indicate this but it could be due to DUP oversampling in this poll. Responses to questions on transfers showed that SDLP and UUP voters are now more likely to give 2nd preferences to each other. The most significant change is that UUP voters are more likely to give their 2nd preference to Alliance and the SDLP rather than the DUP. This is how UUP voters indicated their 2nd preference:

SDLP                      25.3%

Alliance                 23.7%

DUP                          5.8%

TUV                        19.0%

Other Unionist     11.6%

SF                              1.6%

PBP                           2.6%

Green                       3.2%

That trend could have a profound impact on the election prospects for DUP candidates. Unionist voters do not appear to have noticed any increased interest in voting in this election but nationalist voters have noticed increased interest among family, friend and coworkers in voting in 2017. This sounds plausible since 2016 unionist nonvoters have no reason to vote in this election. Brexit was passed in Westminster this week and the RHI scandal would certainly not increase unionist turnout for the DUP. Nationalist and nonsectarian voters appear to be more likely to vote this year with impending Brexit and its impact on Northern Ireland a big issue.

There will be additional Lucid Talk polls on February 13 and February 27th will provide more insight on the state of the electorate.


The following are the constituency profiles.

I have included the demographic data, 2016 Assembly results, the new quota with 5 seats and the Brexit vote.


All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
79,679 59,941 17,644 641 1,453
  75.23% 22.14% 0.80% 1.82%


Total                39,702

Quota                6,617

EU Referendum Turnout   40,987 (+1,285)

Remain        78%

Leave           22%


Both the SDLP and SF should elect 2 on transfers since they are close to 2 quotas (33.3%). In 2016 Dr. McCloskey had 4,227 votes at the last count, almost 1,200 votes behind Eamonn McCann. Gary Middleton of the DUP was elected with 6,641 votes and had a surplus. However with the higher quota in 2017 he would barely be above the quota. He is likely to receive fewer transfers this time but should be close to a quota. There are only 2 scenarios in which Eamonn McCann could be elected. There could be a decline in unionist turnout or an increase in nationalist turnout. If nationalist turnout were to increase by 3,000 votes the quota would be 500 higher and the DUP would be 500 votes short of a quota and Eamonn McCann would be elected. There were 1,285 more voters who did vote in the EU referendum so this scenario is possible.


                                              EAST  DERRY

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
79,650 33,062 43,080 566 2,942
  41.51% 54.09% 0.71% 3.69%


New Quota          5,733

EU Referendum Turnout   40,563 (+6,164)

Remain        52%

Leave           48%

The DUP should elect 2 here even with a decline in their 1st preference. There should also be 1 SDLP and 1 SF elected. If you look at the stage 9 count last year this is where the SDLP and SF vote was.

SDLP                             4,172

SF (Archibald)             4,139

SF (O’Hoisin)               3,532

Since the SDLP was ahead of both SF candidates the SDLP candidate will be elected. Since the total nationalist vote equaled 11,843 and 2 quotas is 11,466 both SF and the SDLP should elect one. The only complication factor this time is that there is essentially a 2nd SDLP candidate as the current SDLP MLA, Gerard Mullan, has decided to stand as an independent. John Dallat’s 1st preference vote was 2,000 votes higher in 2011 compared to Gerard Mullan in 2016 so the latter will likely be eliminated. The 5th seat will come down to the UUP and Claire Sugden. Claire Sugden seemed unwilling to stand up to the DUP during the recent RHI debate at Stormont so this could hurt her chances for receiving transfers from Alliance or nationalist voters. If those additional 6,164 Brexit voters turn out there could be significant surplus of nationalist voters who will determine whether the UUP or Claire Sugden wins the 5th seat.

The following 3 constituencies I group together because they all have one demographic in common. The Protestant voting age population is in the 31% or lower range which is less than 2 quotas (33.33%).



                                           WEST TYRONE

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
71,747 48,604 21,926 286 931
  67.74% 30.56% 0.40% 1.30%


New Quota        6,468

EU Referendum Turnout   40,039 (+1,252)

Remain        67%                                              

Leave           33%

I included a former SF member candidate in the SF total and 2 former SDLP councilor candidates in the SDLP total since these 3 candidates left their parties just prior to the election. The SDLP should elect one here since even in the 2015 Westminster election their vote was 16.67%. SF would need to be very close to 50% to elect 3. They are short by almost 6% but there are some possible transfers from the 5.76% nonsectarian voters (Alliance, Green, others). The main problem for SF here is the low nationalist turnout which was 52% in 2016 versus 65% for the unionist electorate. Since this is a border constituency Brexit will be a big issue here. The prospect of a hard border with Donegal could increase nationalist turnout which could potentially elect a 3rd SF MLA. If the nationalist turnout reaches 60% there will be 3 SF elected otherwise there will be 1 UUP and 1 DUP elected with only 2 SF.

                                                    MID ULSTER

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
76,858 51,112 24,033 358 1,355
  66.50% 31.27% 0.47% 1.76%



New Quota        6,791

EU Referendum Turnout   42,411 (+1,683)

Remain        60%                                              

Leave           40%

The SDLP should elect one here as they are just short of a quota but should receive enough Alliance and Green transfer to reach a quota. SF would be 2.5% short of the 50% they need to elect 3. Low nationalist turnout (50% versus 60% unionist) is all that is preventing SF from electing 3. In the 2011 Assembly election SF had 49.2% and the SDLP 14.7% and there was 3.3% for independent nationalist and 1% for Alliance. With the 2011 results SF would have elected 3 and the SDLP one with the DUP winning the 5th seat. Another 2,000 nationalist voters in 2017 is all that is needed for 3 SF. The presence of Michelle O’Neill as a candidate and new SF leader could be enough to bring out those additional 2,000 nationalist voters.

                                        NEWRY AND ARMAGH

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
88,081 58,598 26,966 522 1,995
  66.53% 30.62% 0.59% 2.26%





New Quota        7,953

EU Referendum Turnout   50,622 (+2,929)

Remain        63%                                              

Leave           37%

The SDLP should elect one here since they are above a quota. SF are further away from electing 3 here as they would need to increase their vote from the current 41% to over 45% to be close enough to elect 3 on transfers. Again, the problem for SF here is low nationalist turnout which is 11% less than unionist turnout. If nationalist turnout approaches 60% then SF will elect 3 here. If that occurs the DUP and UUP will be in a close battle for the final seat. Brexit should be a big issue here since obviously a hard border will affect this constituency in a significant way.

                                   FERMANAGH SOUTH TYRONE


All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
81,074 46,746 31,962 532 1,834
  57.66% 39.42% 0.66% 2.26%




New Quota        7,863

EU Referendum Turnout   48,158 (+1,010)

Remain        59%                                              

Leave           41%

This constituency is one of the most difficult to predict for obvious reasons. Based on the 2016 vote there would be 2 DUP and 1 UUP elected with 2 SF. The 2016 vote showed that after transfers the nationalist electorate was 51% and the unionist electorate 49%. SF could not elect 3 since they would need all of the SDLP vote as well as those Alliance, Green and Other transfers that go to the SDLP to transfer through to SF. Starting with a base vote of 39.95% they are too far away from 50% to elect 3. The DUP were just short of 2 new quotas and the UUP would elect one on transfers. The nationalist turnout was a full 20% less than the unionist turnout. However, it is now 2017 and the RHI scandal is now major news with Arlene Foster of the DUP the main candidate here. How this will affect the unionist vote and overall vote is unknown. Brexit and the prospect of a hard border will also be an important issue here. The UUP MP here, Tom Elliot, voted in favour of Brexit in Westminster this past week.  One thing is certain over the years is that unionist voters are very reliable voters and will vote in every election so there will be 22,000 to 23,000 unionist votes. The question is how those votes will be distributed among the DUP and UUP. The Lucid Talk poll is indicating a shift from the DUP to the UUP. In the 2011 Assembly election the UUP received more than 3,000 1st preference votes compared to 2016. If 2,000 of those return to the UUP then the UUP candidate will be elected with Alliance and Green transfers. If it is 2,500 then even the transfers will not be needed. Whether the 2nd DUP will be elected will depend on balancing between Foster and Morrow and nationalist turnout. It will be very difficult for the DUP to balance their candidates here since they do not know how the RHI scandal will affect Arlene Foster’s 1st preference vote. Obviously they need to push the 1st preference vote in Arlene Fosters’ direction since her defeat would be a major defeat for the DUP. For SF there is a sweet spot for increasing nationalist turnout. If it increases to 52% to 54% then they will elect 3 on transfers. However, if it increases to 55% or more then this scenario favours the SDLP. That is because the 3rd unionist candidate would then be polling 10% or less and would be eliminated. Enough of their transfers would go to the SDLP to elect the SDLP candidate. If nationalist turnout is in the 52% to 53% range then the SDLP candidate would probably poll less than the 3rd unionist candidate and would be eliminated instead.

                                              UPPER BANN


All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
92,513 40,880 46,748 809 4,076
  44.19% 50.53% 0.87% 4.41%



New Quota        7,614

EU Referendum Turnout   51,812 (+6,159)

Remain        47%                                              

Leave           53%

The combined SF-SDLP vote in the final count was 17,236 which is 2,000 votes over 2 quotas so there will be 2 nationalist MLA’s elected. O’Dowd of SF finished 167 votes ahead of Kelly of the SDLP but there were 1,260 Alliance and UUP voters who did not transfer to anyone. There will be 3 unionists elected but in 2016 the DUP were 2% short of 2 new quotas on their 1st preference vote. This has traditionally been a strong constituency for the UUP and any significant decline in the DUP vote could result in 2 UUP MLA’s elected. However, the Lucid Talk poll is not indicating such a dramatic shift. There were over 6,000 additional voters who voted in the Brexit referendum and it appears that nationalist turnout may have been close to unionist turnout. If those nationalist voters turn out for the Assembly election then 2 UUP could be elected with nationalist transfers.

                                                 SOUTH DOWN

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
84,986 58,906 23,152 477 2,451
  69.31% 27.24% 0.56% 2.88%


New Quota        6,846

EU Referendum Turnout   47,701 (+6,649)

Remain        67%                                              

Leave           33%

At the Stage 4 count in 2016 these were the party vote totals:

SF                   13,321

SDLP               14,957

DUP                  6,470

UUP                  5,567

The SDLP are 1,267 votes above 2 quotas and SF are 371 votes short of 2 quotas so 2 SF should be elected with SDLP transfers. Subsequent stage counts in 2016 only involved DUP and SF transfers which will not occur in 2017 due to the higher quota. The DUP is at risk of losing out to the UUP for the 1 unionist seat if their vote declines in this election. There were also an additional 6,649 voters who voted in the Brexit referendum and if significant number of these vote then the UUP should win on nationalist transfers.


                                            NORTH ANTRIM

All usual residents Catholic Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related) Other religions None
86,546 24,618 57,871 644 3,413
  28.44% 66.87% 0.74% 3.94%


New Quota        6,833

EU Referendum Turnout   49,720 (+8,742)

Remain        38%                                              

Leave           62%

This constituency is straightforward. The TUV will elect one since they are above a quota. SF will elect one on SDLP transfers. The UUP 1st preference vote is almost 6% less than a quota but with unionist transfers (including TUV) as well as Alliance, Green and SDLP transfers the UUP candidate should be elected. Only 2 DUP will be elected. However, if the Brexit electorate was the electorate for this election then there would be 2 nationalist candidates elected, both SF and SDLP. In 2016 the nationalist turnout was only 36% and the unionist turnout 52%. In the Brexit referendum they appear to have been equal.

Obviously many of the 5th seats will be determined by which electorate votes in the election: the 2016 Assembly electorate or the 2016 Brexit referendum electorate.






Crossing the Rubicon ‘Alea iacta est’

Well folks,

After a relatively quiet Christmas it’s election time again as things currently stand at the time of writing. roman

I think it’s time we swung into action again here on the blog.

The quote above may be loosely translated as “Let the games begin” (With thanks to Sean South) by Julius Caesar

There is little point in me going over the political analysis as to where we are at, the web and the MSM are awash with that, although my own opinion would be very much that this election has come about as a result of what I would term traditional Unionist behaviours. Arrogance, hubris, triumphalism and entitlement.

Quite simply, I think nationalist inclined voters have had enough.

In a nutshell, as I read earlier in a since re-edited piece in a unionist inclined newspaper – Unionist politicians keep making the same basic mistake of saying no and then having to renegotiate from a position of weakness, inevitably getting a worse deal.

And so to the upcoming elections.

Firstly the reduction in seats from 108 to 90. This will affect both the last elected candidates last time round in particular and will influence the number of candidates selected by the parties. The obvious immediate effect will be to increase the quotas for each seat.

Secondly, the dynamic in this election will be crucial in terms of the response by the electorate:

  • Will Unionists desert the DUP in significant numbers?
  • Who would benefit from such a reaction (UUP/ TUV/ Independents/ Alliance etc)
  • Will the Nationalist electorate turn up this time?
  • Will SF’s seizing of the initiative be enough to re-energise their vote?
  • Will there be any significant cross community/ party transfers that signal a change in electoral mood and allegiences?

It’s early days and anything could happen but I’m preparing a constituency analysis of the possibilities.

In the meantime, here are last Mays results again as a reminder along with some comments.

Belfast NorthSF elected first, everyone else on the 11th count!

Results: DUP 3 SF 2 SDLP 1

Belfast South Final seat a run off between UUP/ DUP and Greens

Results: APNI 1 SF 1 DUP 2 SDLP 1 Green 1 

Belfast West  Final seat between SDLP and SF

Results: PBPA 1 SF 4 SDLP 1

East Antrim Final seat will be likely between SF and DUP

Results: DUP 3 UUP 1 APNI 1 SF 1

East LondonderryI’m going to call this one, SF may well take Claire Sugdens seat

Results: DUP 3 SF 1 SDLP 1 Independent 1

Fermanagh & South Tyrone – As always a fascinating constituency but SF made a complete mess of this last may by running 4 candidates, if they run three they could win 3

Results: DUP 2; SF 2; UUP 1; SDLP 1

Newry & ArmaghUUP possibly vulnerable

Results: DUP 1 SF 3 UUP 1 SDLP 1

North Antrim – UUP Scraped in here last time in last place – Huge local vote for Daithi McKay may affect SF vote

Results: TUV 1 DUP 3 UUP 1 SF 1 

Foyle – Big Q here is if Eamonn of PFP holds his seat at expense of SF

Results: DUP 1 SF 2, SDLP 2, PBPA 1

Lagan Valley – Alliance could be vulnerable here

Results: APNI 1, UUP 2, DUP 3

Mid UlsterUUP need a big swing here to take the DUP seat

Results: SDLP 1 SF 3 UUP 1 DUP 1

North DownDUP Last seat very vulnerable here

Results: APNI 1 DUP 3 UUP 1 Green 1

South AntrimAlliance and DUP vulnerable here

Range of likely results: DUP 3 APNI 1 UUP 1 SF 1

South Down Likely UUP Loss

Results: SF 2 SDLP 2 DUP 1 UUP 1

Strangford – Two words – Jonathon Bell, will he stand and if so on what platform and at whos expense (DUP)?

Results: DUP 3 APNI 1 UUP 2

Upper Bann –Probably a fight between SDLP / SF for final seat

Results: DUP 2 SF 2 UUP 2

West TyroneIf SF run 3 either DUP/ UUP or SDLP will lose out

Results: SF 3 DUP 1 UUP 1 SDLP 1

In Conclusion, there are a lot of variables and unknowns as well as few twists and turns ahead no doubt. I don’t doubt that the DUP will try to return things to the “vote Arlene and keep themmuns out” narrative of the last election. That has already started.

My own instinct is that this time may be different.

Faha is preparing a detailed analysis for the constituencies and this old blog will be cranking up a few gears in the weeks ahead.

Winnies Birthday

As some readers here may be aware the picture on the masthead above is of Winifred Carney who was born in Bangor on this day in 1887.

Winnie was a prominent Suffragist, socialist, trade unionist and activist in the struggle for Irish Independence.

She was the first woman to enter the GPO in 1916 in her role as James Connollys secretary. She was one of the last to leave the burning shell at the surrender. Famously, she arrived for duty “Armed with a typewriter and a Webley”.winnie-portrait

I attended a one act play in Belfast recently which focussed on her reflecting upon her eventful life with her husband George, a Shankill Rd Orangeman no less.

It is written by Roseleen Walsh and is called “Winnie and George – opposing Politics” It was an interesting and thought provoking play which I would highly recommend if it gets an extended run.

For those interested here is a documentary about her life

<p><a href=”″>WINIFRED CARNEY</a> from <a href=””>Northern Visions NvTv</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Moving lines on a Map

Yesterday, I attended the public consultation by the Boundary Commission regarding the new 2018 proposed Westminster boundary changes.

I made copious notes throughout the presentation and I thought I would share them with2016-review-provisional-proposals-map you as I was quite surprised at the very poor attendance. There were about 15 people present for the (excellent) presentation plus, of course, the officials from the Boundary Commission itself.

The cast of characters was, in itself, interesting. We had no less than 3 MPs present and an assortment of characters on behalf of various political parties. In fact I believe everyone in the room was representing some party or other. Being only one session of 3 yesterday (12 in total), and bearing in mind that it took place in Belfast, it was not surprising that most of the submissions were Belfast – centric.

It is important to bear in mind that most, if not all, of our political parties will be making detailed written submissions on the proposals prior to the 28 November deadline. These will be published on the Boundary commission website in due course.

The afternoon kicked off with a straightforward, although professional, presentation by Eamonn McConville, secretary of the NI Boundary Commission who explained the remit, methodology and parameters under which the study was undertaken.

All of the information he provided is readily available on the Boundary Commission website here and has been covered at length on this site previously. A full Map is available here.

This is the point where things got interesting. The floor was then open to verbal submissions from the floor which provided some very interesting insight into the thinkings of our current politicans and parties. If I may, I’ll deal with this in the order in which things played out.

First up was my own local MP, Sylvia Hermon.

Sylvia gave a very good speech and spoke about the close links between the various towns and districts in the North Down area, notably, Bangor, Holywood, Donaghadee and Groomsport. She emphasised the links between local schools, churches and communities and how they are interwoven. She spoke of how those links should be respected and how North Down was essentially a coastal community.  Regarding the proposals, she had two points. Firstly, and this was very diplomatically put, she didn’t see the logic of adding the 5 Dundonald wards to North Down and secondly, losing her neighbouring ward around Millisle.and indeed, further down the Ards peninsular, which, to her mind made more sense. She said that clearly she had no objections per-se to adding Dundonald but she was not happy regarding the potential losses along the Ards peninsular. Her difficulty here, which is the same for all vested interests of course, is the knock on effects on the other constituencies, particularly Strangford. Regarding the changes in Belfast, she said she would keep her opinions to herself, possibly wise given what was coming up.

Next up was the SDLP. They were represented by a Father/Daughter double act of Eamonn and Clare Hannah MLA who both spoke in a personal capacity rather than from an official party position..

Essentially they were saying the same thing regarding the boundary proposals although Eamonn gave us a fascinating anecdote about how his grandmother had acted as acted as election agent for Eamonn De-Valera in times past. In a nutshell neither was in favour of the move from four to three seats, not surprisingly given the likely effect upon Alasdairs South Belfast seat. I do know that Alasdair was at the morning session in person but unfortunately I missed that particular highlight. Claire spoke passionately about the absurdity of moving what are clearly South Belfast urban wards into the largely rural new constituency of West Down.

At this point I should state that there was one UUP and one Alliance representative present and although both asked some questions, neither made any submissions from the platform. I am aware, however, of an Alliance position paper which is largely in favour of and supportive of the Belfast boundary proposals. Again, not surprisingly given their enhanced chances of taking the new South East Belfast seat.

I know that there were also 5 SF representatives present. None spoke at this session but I was informed that Alex Maskey was due to attend the evening session. With the prospect of gathering 2 of the 3 Belfast seats at the next election with the current proposals I would expect little criticism as things stand.

Next up it was showtime.

The DUP arrived in force. All sharp suits, busy demeanor and frowns, we were treated to the double whammy of Nigel Dodds and Gavin Robinson giving full vent to their outrage. Yes I know.

Nigel is not a happy bunny. He wants the entire thing ripped up and started again. From scratch. I’ll not go into Unionisms record on drawing up electoral boundaries but the lack of self awareness was stunning.

He started reasonably enough talking about seperating towns from their natural hinterland (Derry anyone?) mentioned local identity (Don’t start me) but unfortunately moved swiftly along to the loss of Rathcoole and parts of Glengormley and Newtownabbey  from his own constituency. That’s when the reflexive rhetoric kicked in. A taste of it?

“Very poor”, “Dismemberment”, Basic lack of common sense”, “Unacceptable”, “Unnatural”, people being “Cast out”. I trust you get the idea.

Finally Gavin Robinson had his say.

Well he picked up where Nigel left off, my first notes are “Outrageous”. “Bizarrely contrived” “Unnatural” (again) and “People (in Dundonald) being used as mathematical pawns.” In a nutshell he’s not happy about losing Dundonald and gaining Belvoir.

It was a highly entertaining afternoon in fairness. I think the above may give you all an idea of where the parties stand on these proposals but as always  here, we remain vulnerable to the machinations and self interest of the Tories at Westminster. This boundary revision could be voted down by a tiny tory revolt. I have no doubt the DUP will vote against it.

That can’t change soon enough