Irish Republican News · November 24, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Election previews - West and Border areas
Election previews - West and Border areas
This is the fourth installment of a five-part constituency by constituency analysis of the parties and candidates in the up-coming Belfast Assembly elections, to be held on November 26th.

Each of the 18 parliamentary constituencies will return 6 members by single transferable vote (STV) to sit in the Stormont Assembly, thus making up its 108 members.

 

FERMANAGH AND SOUTH TYRONE

This constituency takes in the largely rural south-western corner of Northern Ireland, including Fermanagh District Council and most of Dungannon District Council.

With a slight nationalist majority, split-votes and cliff hanging results this sprawling constituency traditionally delivers more than its fair share of drama in the first- past-the-post Westminster elections.

Michelle Gildernew defeated Ulster Unionist James Cooper in 2001 by just 53 votes. But the single transferable vote means it's not quite so interesting in the six-seat assembly context.

Among the Ulster Unionists, Arlene Foster -- a high profile anti-Agreement figure often seen beside Jeffrey Donaldson -- has most to gain in her first electoral outing.

Fellow UUP Councillor and farmer Tom Elliot, who is thought to be an Agreement sceptic is also strongly favored. The party's third runner is the pro-Agreement Robert Mulligan.

There's also probably a third unionist seat here for out-going DUP MLA and former minister, Maurice Morrow.

Sinn Féin has been making relentless strides in the area - Michelle Gildernew's vote in the Westminster election was 34%, compared to just 18% for the SDLP's Tommy Gallagher who will probably hold his assembly seat.

Out-going Sinn Féin MLA Gerry McHugh should accompany Gildernew home, but it would be an upset if Thomas O'Reilly became the third member of the Sinn Féin team to win a seat.

Sitting members of the Assembly:

Tommy Gallagher SDLP
Sam Foster UUP
Gerry McHugh SF
Joan Carson UUP
Michelle Gildernew SF
Maurice Morrow DUP

The Party breakdown of the vote in 1998 was:

Party - seats won - overall vote - percentage of vote

SF - 2 - 13714 - 55.4%
UUP - 2 - 12572 - 50.8%
SDLP - 1 - 11007 - 44.5%
DUP - 1 - 7082 - 28.6%
UKUP - 4262 - 17.2%
NIWC - 1729 - 7%
Alliance - 614 - 2.5%

MID ULSTER

This constituency is the western shore of Lough Neagh. It takes in the whole of Magherafelt and Cookstown district councils, and the Coalisland part of Dungannon district council.

The interesting battle in Mid-Ulster is between the two shades of green - Sinn Féin and the SDLP. The last time, Sinn Féin won hands down - with Martin McGuinness gathering 51% of the vote in the 2001 Westminster election. A glance at the results of the local government poll that year saw Sinn Féin on 40%, the SDLP on half that.

This constituency, which takes in Cookstown and Magherafelt councils, used to be held by the DUP's William McCrea in Westminster elections, even though it was naturally a nationalist seat. Mr McCrea's defeat by Mr McGuinness in 1997 was sealed by boundary changes. Nationalists, desperate to unseat McCrea, opted for McGuinness as the candidate most likely to succeed.

And now Sinn Féin is relying on his popularity to retain its three seats by standing Mr McGuinness alongside three candidates, including veteran Francie Molloy and two newcomers Geraldine Dougan and Cora Groogan.

Another veteran, John Kelly, has quit the party and it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, this has. Sinn Féin was not expected to take more than two seats last time, but is confident of winning three again.

The SDLP believes better management and transfers give it a fighting chance but they are up against a growing Sinn Féin vote.

On the unionist side, the Ulster Unionists and DUP should take a seat each. Carefully managing his vote, Martin McGuinness will be hoping to lose the battle to top the poll to the DUP's William McCrea, who topped the poll last time.

Sitting members of the Assembly:

Rev William McCrea DUP
Martin McGuinness SF
Denis Haughey SDLP
Francie Molloy SF
John Kelly SF
Billy Armstrong UUP

The Party breakdown of the vote in 1998 was:

Party - seats won - overall vote - percentage of vote

SF - 3 - 20305 - 40.8%
SDLP - 1 - 11076 - 22.2%
DUP - 1 - 10646 - 21.4%
UUP - 1 - 6938 - 13.9%
Alliance - 497 - 1%
WP - 207 - 0.4%
SP - 91 - 0.2%

SOUTH DOWN

This constituency takes in the largely rural south-eastern corner of Northern Ireland, including most of Down District Council, the eastern part of Newry and Mourne District Council, and a small part of Banbridge District Council.

South Down is traditionally seen as SDLP territory but they will have to defend the three seats won at the last assembly election without the sitting MP Eddie McGrady who isn't standing. The SDLP vote in South Down has been in decline for the last three elections with Sinn Féin making continual gains.

Sinn Féin looks certain to add to the one Assembly seat won by Murphy in 1998. Mick is not standing this time around and Sinn Féin is fielding Down councillors Eamonn McConvey and Willie Clarke, along with human rights and community activist Caitriona Ruane.

On the unionist side there is probably one pro- and one anti-Agreement seat. If that's the case Trimble loyalist and former junior minister Dermot Nesbitt is safe. His running mate is the anti-Agreement Jim Donaldson, father of Lagan Valley MP and Trimble nemesis Jeffrey. He may be competing with outgoing Assembly member Jim Wells DUP who nevertheless remains a strong favourite.

Sitting members of the Assembly:

Eddie McGrady SDLP
Mick Murphy SF
P J Bradley SDLP
Dermot Nesbitt UUP
Jim Wells DUP
Eamon O'Neill SDLP

The Party breakdown of the vote in 1998 was:

Party - seats won - overall vote - percentage of vote

SDLP - 3 - 23257 - 45.3
SF - 1 - 7771 - 15.1
UUP - 1 - 7419 - 14.4
DUP - 1 - 4826 - 9.4
UKUP - 2576 - 5
NIWC - 1658 - 3.2
Ind. - 1562 - 3
Alliance - 1502 - 2.9
Labour - 498 - 1

NEWRY AND ARMAGH

This constituency takes in all of Armagh District Council and the western part of Newry and Mourne District Council, stretching from the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, Armagh, the new city of Newry to the republican stronghold of south Armagh.

This is another constituency where SDLP retirements pose significant challenges. Former Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon is standing down.

The gap between Sinn Féin and the SDLP in terms of vote share has been decreasing steadily in recent elections. In 1998, the SDLP won two Assembly seats with 35% of the vote. Sinn Féin also won two seats, with nearly 26% of the vote.

In the 2001 Westminster election, Mallon held the seat while Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy closed the gap significantly as the party breached the 30% vote mark.

But it's still some distance to winning a third seat to add to the two won last time.

Conor Murphy, who hopes to take the seat from the SDLP at the next Westminster election, is joined on the ticket by a woman, Pat O'Rawe and by Newry councillor Davy Hyland.

The two unionist quotas in this constituency appear safe. Paul Berry took a seat here for the DUP last time and could shade Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy, also an anti-Agreement figure.

The SDLP's best known face in Mr Mallon's absence is outgoing Assembly member John Fee.

Sitting members of the Assembly:

Seamus Mallon SDLP
Paul Berry DUP
Danny Kennedy UUP
Conor Murphy SF
Pat McNamee SF
John Fee SDLP

The Party breakdown of the vote in 1998 was:

Party - seats won - overall vote - percentage of vote

SDLP - 2 - 18953 - 35%
SF - 2 - 14052 - 26%
UUP - 1 - 9819 - 18.1%
DUP - 1 - 7214 - 13.3%
IND - 1227 - 2.3%
NIWC - 1138 - 2.1%
UI - 933 - 1.7%
Alliance - 777 - 1.4% <

WEST TYRONE

West Tyrone is a nationalist stronghold running along the Donegal border, centered on Omagh but stretching to Derry in the North and Fermanagh to the South.

The battle for West Tyrone was one of the most fascinating of the 2001 Westminster election. This poll was a disaster for the SDLP's Brid Rodgers who was defeated by Sinn Féin's Pat Doherty.

The SDLP will work to hold its two assembly seats, won last time by Joe Byrne and Eugene McMenamin. Sinn Féin is targeting Mr McMenamin's seat in the hope of picking up a third seat.

This constituency has witnessed substantial growth in support for Sinn Féin over the last three elections. In 1997, Sinn Féin had 30.86% of the vote, compared to the SDLP's 32.07%. In 1998, the party won the highest vote share in the constituency, with 34.09% of the poll, and in the 2001 Westminster election saw the Sinn Féin vote share grow again to 40.83%, with the SDLP on 28.73%.

Mr Doherty, the sitting MP, is running alongside outgoing MLA Barry McElduff, and Brian McMahon.

A Sinn Féin victory of three seats requires another jump in its vote by a few percentage points.

On the unionist side, the DUP and Ulster Unionists are both standing two candidates each but realistically, based on previously voting trends, the parties will win no more than one seat each.

Sitting members of the Assembly:

Oliver Gibson DUP
Pat Doherty SF
Joe Byrne SDLP
Barry McElduff SF
Derek Hussey UUP
Eugene McMenamin SDLP

The Party breakdown of the vote in 1998 was:

Party - seats won - overall vote - percentage of vote

SF - 2 - 15666 - 34.17
SDLP - 2 - 11815 - 25.77
DUP - 1 - 8015 - 17.48
UUP - 1 - 7237 - 15.79
Ind. 1269 - 2.77
Alliance 1011 - 2.21
SP - 570 - 1.24
Ind. - 171 - 0.37
WP 157 - 0.34

© 2003 Irish Republican News