Irish Republican News · November 21, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Election previews - Belfast City
This is the third 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.



This constituency takes in the eastern quarter of Belfast City Council and adjacent parts of Castlereagh District Council. The member of parliament has been Peter Robinson (DUP deputy leader) since he defeated Bill Craig, the former Vanguard leader who had then joined the UUP, in 1979. The constituency shrank somewhat in 1983 but was then expanded outwards again in 1995.

In 1998 the DUP, took nearly 31% of the vote and two out of six seats, with Sammy Wilson having to wait until the 12th count to get elected. But this time out they are making an intense bid for a third.

The two vulnerable seats in this constituency would appear to be Adamson's UUP seat and Ervine's seat for the PUP. The Westminster result is not encouraging for Adamson; the local government result discouraging for Ervine.

The Sinn Féin vote in this constituency is growing, with the party electing a councillor here in 2001. Joe O'Donnell is contesting his third election for the party in East Belfast. Party vote share has grown from 2% in 1997 to 3.36%, with the Sinn Féin vote pushing decisively ahead of the SDLP in 2001.

Sitting members of the Assembly:

Peter Robinson DUP
Lord Alderdice AP
Reg Empey UUP
David Ervine PUP
Ian Adamson UUP
Sammy Wilson DUP

The Party breakdown of the vote in 1998 was:

Party - seats won - overall vote - percentage of vote

DUP - 2 - 12225 - 30.9
UUP - 2 - 9620 - 24.3
Alliance - 1 - 7144 - 18
PUP - 1 - 5385 - 13.6
UKUP - 1362 - 3.4
SDLP - 1025 - 2.6
SF - 917 - 2.3
NIWC - 711 - 1.8
UDP - 516 - 1.3


This constituency takes in the northern quarter of Belfast City Council and adjacent parts of Newtownabbey District Council.

The member of parliament has been Nigel Dodds since the 2001 election; he defeated Cecil Walker (UUP) who had represented North Belfast since 1983. The constituency was expanded a little in 1983 and rather more in 1995.

The UUP dominated the constituency for years until the last general election when its sitting MP of almost 20 years was toppled. Cecil Walker's unseating by the DUP's Nigel Dodds showed a dramatic collapse in the Ulster Unionist vote.

At the last assembly election the UUP fielded two candidates, but this time only Fred Cobain, who was elected last time, is in the field and he is viewed as vulnerable. The DUP is confident the sitting Nigel Dodds can easily win a seat and help deliver one for his running mate Nelson McCausland.

Mr Cobain could be battling with two other outgoing unionist Assembly members for a seat - the loyalist PUP's Billy Hutchinson, and Fraser Agnew, a former Ulster Unionist who stood as an anti-agreement independent last time.

On the nationalist side, there are potentially three seats. Sinn Féin and the SDLP are sure to win at least one each, with Gerry Kelly and Alban Maginness the favourites to be elected.

The Sinn Féin vote grew in the Westminster election, with Gerry Kelly winning 25.24% of the vote compared to 20.99% for the SDLP's Alban Maginness.

Mr Kelly is hoping to assist Kathy Staunton to a seat, and based on previous voting trends, Sinn Féin should be the favourite to take a second seat here.

Sitting members of the Assembly:

Nigel Dodds DUP
Alban Maginness SDLP
Gerry Kelly SF
Billy Hutchinson PUP
Fraser Agnew UUAP
Fred Cobain UUP

The Party breakdown of the vote in 1998 was:

Party - seats won - overall vote - percentage of vote

SF - 1 - 8775 - 21.3
DUP - 1 - 8764 - 21.3
SDLP - 1 - 8661 - 21.1
UUP - 1 - 4479 - 10.9
PUP - 1 - 3751 - 9.1
UUAP - 1 - 2976 - 7.2
AP - 1267 - 3.1
UDP - 911 - 2.2
UKUP - 748 - 1.8


This constituency takes in the southern quarter of Belfast City Council and adjacent parts of Castlereagh District Council.

The sitting Westminster MP is hardline anti-Agreement Ulster Unionist, the Reverend Martin Smyth, who is not standing. But ironically the constituency returns two pro- Agreement members of his party, staunch Trimblites Michael McGimpsey and Esmond Birnie.

They are strong favourites again - the third Ulster Unionist candidate is the anti-Agreement John Hiddleston. Out-going DUP MLA, the low profile Mark Robinson, is also expected to return.

Dr Alasdair McDonnell topped the poll for the SDLP last time around - he's thought to be safe again, but his colleague Carmel Hanna, or Monica McWilliams of the Women's Coalition, could be in trouble.

Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey is running here for the second time and is hoping to continue 20 years of political record setting.

He was Sinn Féin's first elected Belfast councillor in 1983, is a sitting MLA in West Belfast and in 2002 became the first republican Mayor of Belfast. He has the potential to become the first Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast.

Maskey won 7.63% of the vote for Sinn Féin here in 2001, up on the 6.4% polled in 1998. It is a big gamble for Sinn Féin to run Maskey here, but it is very likely to pay off.

Sitting members of the Assembly:

Alasdair McDonnell SDLP
Michael McGimpsey UUP
Monica McWilliams NIWC
Carmel Hanna SDLP
Esmond Birnie UUP
Mark Robinson DUP

The Party breakdown of this vote was:

Party - seats won - overall vote - percentage of vote

UUP - 2 - 9533 - 30.6
SDLP - 2 - 8838 - 28.3
DUP - 1 - 5321 - 17.1
Alliance - 4086 - 13.1
NIWC - 1 - 3912 - 12.5
SF - 2605 - 8.4
PUP - 2112 - 6.8
UDP - 1745 - 5.6
UKUP - 1496 - 4.8
IND - 437 - 1.4


This constituency takes in the western quarter of Belfast City Council and the Twinbrook and Poleglass estates in Lisburn District Council.

The Westminster seat was won in 1983 by Gerry Adams, a seat the Sinn Féin leader successfully defended in 1987. The Sinn Féin grip on the constituency was only briefly upset in 1992 when the SDLP's Joe Hendron, with support from unionists, toppled Mr Adams.

It was a short-lived victory for the SDLP. Mr Adams reclaimed the seat in 1997, a comeback boosted by boundary changes.

Sinn Féin took four of the six seats here in 1998, with 58.98% of the vote, and this time around an ambitious local party organisation is targeting five seats.

In the 2001 Westminster elections, party president Gerry Adams was returned again as an MP with 66.12%, the largest vote share of any party throughout the Six Counties.

The SDLP vote has been in decline from 38.69% in 1997 to 24.93% in 1998 and just 18.92% in 2001. With such a vote share the SDLP will have difficulty holding on to the two Assembly seats they won in 1998.

There is a pocket of unionists clustered mainly along the loyalist Shankill Road. There are enough unionist voters here to win one of the six seats but given divisions and the number of candidates, it is unlikely.

If a unionist did win, it would certainly be at the expense of one of the SDLP's candidates - most likely Alex Attwood, an outgoing assembly member.

Sitting members of the Assembly:

Gerry Adams SF
Joe Hendron SDLP
Bairbre de Brun SF
Alex Attwood SDLP
Alex Maskey SF
Sue Ramsey SF

The Party breakdown of the 1998 vote was:

Party - seats won - overall vote - percentage of vote

SF - 4 - 24650 - 59%
SDLP - 2 - 10520 - 25.2%
PUP - 2180 - 5.2%
UUP - 1640 - 3.9%
DUP - 1345 - 3.2%
UKUP - 666 - 1.6%
WP - 607 - 1.5%

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© 2003 Irish Republican News