Northern Ireland Assembly election – morning update #ae16

The first preference votes are now in, and over half the 108 seats have now been allocated. There has been no dramatic shift of support from the parties, and at least 11 of the 18 constituencies will return the same mix of MLAs as they did in 2011. But two themes are emerging for me.

First, the vote for all of the established parties is down. Down only slightly, 0.7%-0.8% for the DUP, UUP and Alliance, who will each return with (probably) the same number of seats as in 2011 but will have to struggle in some cases. Down 2.2% for the SDLP from an already low base, down 2.9% for Sinn Fein – the SDLP struggling mightily to minimise losses; the worst ever election in vote share for the SDLP and UUP. The beneficiaries are the smaller parties – the new Assembly will have two Greens rather than one, two new MLAs from the People Before Profits Alliance, and 19 29-year-old independent MLA Claire Sugden has held her seat, as has Jim Allister of the TUV.

Second, yet again the overall vote for Nationalist parties is down, even if you count in the votes for various independents in Nationalist areas; and the smaller Unionist parties failed to make a breakthrough – the PUP nowhere, Jim Allister unable to bring in a party colleague, UKIP wth a small chance of displacing SF in East Antrim and that's it. (The Northern Ireland Conservatives had another ultra-lousy election.) It's early days yet, but I think we are seeing the continuing fraying of the old ways.

In detail: the constituencies where there has been a change of line-up, or where one is still possible, are as follows.

East Antrim: Both Sinn Fein and the DUP are in trouble here, with the UUP and, uniquely, UKIP in the running for the last two seats. My guess is that the DUP's Alistair Ross will make it, but that SF will lose their seat to the UUP or UKIP. The latter are currently ahead, but I think they may prove less transfer-friendly.
East Londonderry: The SDLP seat here was under threat from SF. But I think Alliance transfers have now saved the SDLP so no change is now the more likley outcome.
Foyle: Veteran activist Eamonn McCann took one of the SDLP's three seats.
Lagan Valley: On first preferences I thought the DUP might repeat 2011's remarkable feat of winning four seats – despite having only three quotas, their balancing was good. But the UUP in the end managed not only to regain Basil McCrea's old seat but to add another.
South Belfast: For my money, the most dramatic result of the election, with likely two seat changing hands – the SDLP will lose one of their two to the Greens, and the DUP wll squeeze out the UUP.
Upper Bann: On first preferences, SF look well-placed to gain the SDLP seat, but I think Alliance transfer (as in East Londonderry) will save Dolores Kelly. Some observers are trying to convince me that there are not enough Unionist votes for four seats, and the SF could therefore gain from the UUP. I don't see it myself.
West Belfast: The other PBPA success, Gerry Carroll getting elected on the first count with a massive surplus, taking one of the five SF seats. It looked for a long time as if Alex Attwood was also in danger to the DUP, but in the end SF transfers salvaged the SDLP seat.

Two seats where no change happened: Strangford, where the SDLP yet again failed to make the breakthrough; and South Antrim where the UUP's success at Westminster failed to translate to the Assembly. Some optimists are trying to persuade me that Unionist transfers in Fermanagh and South Tyrone could sneak the SDLP in ahead of the third SF candidate, reversing the tightest result of the 2011 election. I'm not convinced.

My final seat tally:
DUP 38 (no change)
SF 27-28 (down 1-2)
UUP 16-17 (up 0-1)
SDLP 10-13 (down 1-4)
Alliance 8 (no change)
PBPA 2 (up 2)
Greens 2 (up 1)
Claire Sugden 1
UKIP 0-1 (up 0-1)

This gives the DUP 3 ministries, SF 2, the UUP 1 and the SDLP 1 of the seven allocated by d’Hondt – if they choose to take them – along with a DUP First Minister, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister, and Justice Minister to be appointed by cross-community vote (likely from the Alliance Party).

  • Heather Richardson

    Once it’s all done and dusted, it would be interesting to compare the average age of the new cohort – there seem to be lots of thirty-somethings getting seats. Will the gender balance have changed a smidgeon?

  • Dan

    Let Stephen Agnew be the justice minister,
    Enough of smug Alliance

  • Not Stephen, Clare

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “and the smaller Unionist parties failed to make a breakthrough – the PUP nowhere” I have seen the PUP take knock out blows before at elections and still pick themselves up from the canvass to fight another day, but this hit could be the real knock out blow where they are ringed out on the count off 10 for good ! With the next assembly constituencies reducing to 5 seats, it looks like achieving election to it and such a political goal is now a distant memory. As a good friend said yesterday after the disappointment. “Without a voice in the Assembly you are irrelevant !” It will be interesting to see what now happens to this loyalist working class political opinion ? Does it fade away into the sunset or try to regroup for another shot in the boxing ring in 3 years time at council elections (Which could be even bloodier). One thing that I know is that this political class of people are behind one side of them Belfast Peace Walls ! With what they see as no political representation or voice, I can see problems in breaking down further polarisation of these communities.

  • ballyhacker

    So, does the respective fall in votes mean that the unionists have a stronger aspiration than nationalists….?

  • mjh

    There is a very clear divide. The five parties from the Executive (and I include UUP in that) all saw their vote share fall. Every other party, without exception, saw their vote share increase.

    The NI parties are learning the lesson that all parties elsewhere have learned – if you have power there is a price. Sooner or later your vote will fall.

    The other lesson that the SDLP and the UUP may have learnt is that there is no prospect of real recovery unless they change the rules of the game. In opposition, especially if they can be seen to be a more coherent partnership than that between the DUP and SF, they have the possibility of gaining the rewards that opposition can bring. Of course they would risk irrelevance, and be dependent entirely on their own abilities to make political news, but the alternative is the known risk of continuing eclipse.

    For both this is a moment of crisis. That can sometimes also be a moment of opportunity.

    If Alliance stayed out of such an arrangement they would risk paying a heavy price at the next Assembly election
    A government of about 66 DUP/SF versus an organised opposition of around 36 UUP/SDLP/Alliance.

    Could be good for everyone.

  • Gingray

    I’ve similar tallies for the remaining seats. Also interesting is if UUP or SDLP go into opposition – first seat goes dup, second SF. Alliance would have 8th pick in that scenario.

    Like heather says below, age and gender profile should be interesting.

    BTW got the kindle file, you deserve some tiny reward for all the work done on ark.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Oops, Claire Sugden is 29. Will change that when I can (probably late tonight).

  • Gopher

    Is the speakers position seen as having a value or is it a case of seen it done it now?

  • Nicholas, on Upper Bann, not sure I agree. With 4 seats left and a 6527 quota, BBC gives the current figures as
    SF 6344
    UUP 5901
    SF 5363
    SDLP 4599
    UUP 3333
    UUP 2144
    ALL 1876
    TUV 1387
    In terms of SDLP versus UUP#2, there are 3531 Unionist transfers and only 1,876 Alliance transfers. That’ll be tight. Only about a quarter of Alliance’s transfers went to the SDLP last time with more going to Unionists. There’s enough there for the UUP to close the gap and not enough for the SDLP to overtake SF.

  • Brendan Heading

    I suspect you are right TE, I can’t see the PUP coming back from this.

    Loyalist working class political opinion is firmly and squarely behind the DUP and UUP, where it always has been.

  • Jag

    What happens next? It will be DUP/SF at the heart of next government, but will there be a jointly agreed programme for government?
    When will the ministries be selected? There’s going to be fewer of them now, isn’t that the case.
    When will the Assembly next meet?
    When will the committees be re-established?

  • Brendan Heading

    A few things jump out :

    – the DUP ran a blinder of a campaign. It turns out that a simple, tribal message is highly effective. To do this right after installing a new party leader, and right after many serious controversies of various kinds, is a major accomplishment.

    – nationalism is in trouble. SF have become complacent and have indulged in the acquiescence of their own supporters too much. Suspect that domestic controversies such as Casement, along with the whole business of pretending to be anti-austerity while voting welfare powers back over to London, has motivated nationalist voters to punish them.

    – the SDLP were incompetent and are obviously still having problems with splits. The only seat they won was one that SF gifted them.

    – Alliance will be relieved that they held on, but disappointed not to have made any seat gains. This is primarily because of the Greens who like the DUP fought a fairly simple campaign on certain key issues and benefited from not being part of the government.

    Alliance should think long and hard about re-entering the Executive.

    – abortion and gay rights are not factors in elections except on the margins. Less than 10 MLAs out of 108 remain opposed to the ’67 Act. The DUP have been re-endorsed in their opposition to marriage equality.

    – Fantastic that UKIP were wiped out and the TUV made no gains. anti-agreement Unionism is emphatically and completely dead.

    – there is no “silent majority”. Northern Ireland is a conservative place.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Would disagree that all Loyalist Working Class Political Opinion is firmly and squarely behind the DUP and UUP where it always has been. I was in a Loyalist Bar last night and if any person had of gloated about the DUP hammering the PUP into the ground they would have got their head ripped off. The biggest problem I see in the grassroots is that 50% of them people are not voting and PUP Policy or Candidates can not get these people out to vote !

  • Pete

    38 seats for the DUP. Surely some mistake, according to Twitter they were going to have a terrible performance?!?

  • Msiegnaro

    Jim Allister is the natural choice with his legal background.

  • Msiegnaro

    Are there fewer ministries?

  • Slater

    Sadly wrong on most predictions probably due to 50% input being what you want to see happen.
    The BBC results programme was pretty dreadful.Firstly they are not interested in the figures. (UTV’s website was vastly superior if not perfect).
    Secondly they seem to indulge in badly informed rumors like Attwood wining by one vote and the SDLP candidate in FST winning by five.

  • Dan

    I know but that’s not going to happen.

  • Msiegnaro

    Unfortunately not but it would be an inspired choice.

  • Reader

    At present the link below shows 12 departments (including OFMDFM).
    When they get their act together it should soon show 9 (I think). DOE, DEL and DCAL are being absorbed into other departments, and most surviving departments are being renamed.

  • Skibo

    The Justice Minister has to be elected on a cross community vote. That should rule Jim out right away. The interesting thing will be who will be JM if Alliance join the opposition where they just might want to be.

  • Msiegnaro

    Claire Sugden has been mentioned.

  • On Upper Bann, I told you so.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Does anyone really believe that Sinn Féin or SDLP supporters voting for People before Profit or the Green Party or staying at home is some sort of acquiesce of personal constitutional aspiration?

    Even if these parties do back integrated education, or say they’re above orange and green they are not forces to increase “pro-union” sentiments.

    I don’t think nationalism is in any kind of trouble, only nationalist parties suffered a bit of a hair cut here.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I thought she was the only one not mentioned.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well it would be tough to identify the natural successors to the Social Development and Regional Development departments as simply Communities and Infrastructure. There are some Social Development things in Infrastructure and some Regional Development things in Communities.

  • Kevin Breslin

    If you ignore the co-options from last term. I count a net 7

    I’m pointing out where women replaced men in the constituency. Ignoring any situation where it could be said that a woman was replaced by another woman e.g. Anna Lo by Paula Bradshaw, or a woman who won the seat of another woman Catherine Seeley from Dolores Kelly.

    Nichola Mallon replaced Alban Maguinness
    Carla Lockhart replaced Stephen Moutray
    Rosemary Barton replaced Alastair Patterson
    Joanne Bunting replaced Peter Robinson –
    Kellie Armstrong replaced Kieran McCarthy –
    Jenny Palmer won the seat at the expense of Jonathan Craig
    Claire Bailey won the seat at the expense of Feargal McKinney
    Caoimhe Archibald won the seat at the expense of Cathal Ó hOisín

    Another to add to the list was that Linda Dillon replaced Martin McGuiness but that was cancelled out by Martin McGuinness won the seat of Maeve McLaughlin.

    As far as I’m aware there is only one other example of a man replacing women and that was

    Gerry Carroll won the seat at the expense of Rosie McCorley

    So by my maths there are 7 more women MLAs … I cannot say how many in total.

  • Brendan Heading

    God love you Kevin. Your optimism is eternally undimmed by facts.

  • Brendan Heading

    No she hasn’t.

    If Alliance do not take the justice ministry, the DUP and SF will cobble a deal together. None of the other parties will want to touch it. Being in government comes with some fairly clear occupational hazards.

  • Kevin Breslin

    What facts do you actually have?

    There’s been no survey done into anyone’s change in constitutional beliefs here.

    I believe your “facts” are undimmed as being only your optimism.

  • Msiegnaro

    Sinn Fein and the DUP have suggested that Alliance have ran their course, however I don’t see an alternative.

  • Brendan Heading

    Sinn Fein and the DUP have suggested that Alliance have ran their course

    When ? First I’ve heard of it.

    however I don’t see an alternative.

    John O’Dowd or Simon Hamilton.

  • Msiegnaro

    It was during the BBC analysis when poor David Ford was being interviewed at the count.