Who has the youngest assembly group in NI?

I had to do a bit of research during the week on the assembly and the people who work in it. On the side I thought it would be interesting to find out just how old the average MLA is and what party has the youngest assembly group.

Let’s begin with the overall picture-I surveyed the ages of 106 of the 108 MLAs-I couldn’t find the date of birth for two of them but this will still give me a good sample. The average age of an MLA is 52 years old. This I found a little surprising as I would’ve thought MLA’s would have been a bit older but there you go.

How about the parties?

The youngest assembly group is Sinn Fein and NI21 at 47.5 years old. Sinn Fein have some of the youngest MLA’s in the assembly with Megan Fearon, Chris Hazzard and Phil Flanagan all being in their twenties. In NI21’s case there are only two of them and John McCallister’s age brings the overall average down for the party.

In second place is the DUP with their average MLA being 50 years old. Some of the older members of the party in their sixties did bring up the average age for the assembly group. However, the party does have some MLA’s in their early thirties which will give it a solid base for the future. (Note these figures do not include Brenda Hale)

In third place is the SDLP with their average MLA being 53 years old. Now here I did not have an age for Patsy McGlone but getting the average of the other 13 MLA’s I was able to come to that number. Column Eastwood and Mark H Durkan brought the assembly group’s average age down substantially as both are in their thirties.

Joint fourth is the UUP with their average MLA being 55 years old. They do have least amount of younger faces in its ranks.

Also Fourth is the Alliance party with their average MLA being 55 years old. This did surprise me a bit as I thought Alliance would have naturally had a much more youth orientated party but they do have some younger members like Chris Lyttle and Judith Cochrane rising up the ranks.

Other minor parties, the youngest by a mile is the Green party with Steven Agnew at 34, followed by the TUV at 60 with Jim Allister and UKIP at 65 with David McNarry.

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  • David Crookes

    Thanks a lot for another diligent piece of work, David. First impression: oh, dear! Are they really that old? When you add in the wind-chill factor (some of the young MLAs are actually Young Fogeys), you nay be looking at an average effectual age of sixty.

    MLAs are there to lead us into the future. Too many of them, having minds which are still predicated on the Troubles, want to lead us back to the past. (The deposition which Mr McNarry was reported to have made to the Haass talks almost defies belief.)

    TUV = 60 speaks for itself.

    It would be interesting to compare David’s figures with a breakdown by age of the people who actually vote in NI’s elections. If the voting members of the electorate have an average age of 52, we are heading for serious trouble.

    Mr Agnew and Mr Durkan offer us some cause for hope.

  • Im not sure how representative a sample of one or two is of a Party.
    And just how many of the Sinn Fein MLAs were actually elected in 2011?
    Certainly two of their 20 plus contingent were co-opted along with quite a few others.
    Conversely SDLP actually have an older Party than those elected in 2011.
    Conall McDevitt being younger than Fearghal McKinney and Id guess Margaret Ritchie being around the same age as Sean Rogers.

    I do of course have an interest in all this. I am 61 and have ambitions to sit in Stormont. I sincerely hope SDLP Selection Conferences are not influenced by the kind of ageist agenda which seems to the only taboo that modern society tolerates.

  • Charles_Gould

    Another excellent blog piece from D McCann

  • mjh

    What’s the problem?

    I’m much more worried by the growing trend for bright young things to pass directly from university into a Special Advisor role for three or four years before gaining their party’s nomination for a safe seat. Their closest brush with the lives of real people having been a part-time job in a local shop during the school holidays.

    Maybe no one should be permitted to run for public office on a party ticket until they have reached the age of 30. Unless they are exceptional enough to win election as an independent.

  • Charles_Gould

    “Their closest brush with the lives of real people having been a part-time job in a local shop during the school holidays. ”

    Don’t knock it!

  • Shibboleth

    Who are the two ageless Peter Pans?

  • Charles_Gould

    Sean Rodgers is elderly, no?

  • Nope. He is younger than me….and therefore not elderly.

  • Charles_Gould

    Fearghal McKinney seems to be doing a good job for the SDLP in his new post.

    Expect SDLP age to fall as new talent comes on board, FJH has pointed out that SDLP have a truly excellent youth wing.

  • I have?

  • Charles_Gould

    Yes FJH have rightly praised the SDLP’s youth wing

  • Barry the Blender

    I’m in my twenties, and the last thing I want is to be governed by people my own age.

  • Charles_Gould

    Barry B, even if those governing were of the caliber of Conal McDevitt and/or Mark H Durkan?

  • Charles_Gould

    Barry – you see, the new generation can move on, the old generation stuck in the past.

  • Actually Mr Gould, older people …in my humble experience…are much more radical than younger people.
    There was a time when universities had some interesting people.
    In 2013….they are a hotbed of ….accountancy.

  • Granni Trixie

    David I’m sure you mean well but there is something ageist about your post in that it’s as though young-ish equals good and over a certain age equals not good,

    I think it is more important that there is diversity and flow of “new blood” . By new blood I mean people of all ages those not formerly involved in politics ….so often “new blood” is thought of in terms of “young people”. I also believe that there is a gender dimension to the impact of valuing ‘young’ in politics in that after childbearing years as children grow up women in particular are freed up to get involved in public life. I do recognise however that in the modern world many men share childbearing so politics and parties ought to have family friendly policies and practices.

  • I have to agree with Granni Trixie.
    I dont know if you have ever been to a Party conference Mr McCann…but on the fringes and in the exhibitors stalls, there is a lot of charities advocating for the older people and I certainly see older people getting involved over next few years because of pension, health care, nursing care and disability issues.
    As Granni Trixie points out , a lot of women come into the system after raising children….but likewise a lot of people over 50 become involved when they are freed of employment in certain jobs…teaching, nursing, police, civil service…in which it would not be appropriate to be overtly political.
    There is a certain cult around YOOF.
    Student Politics…Interns in quasi-political organisations….jobs as advisors….and most have a touching belief in their own ability…and their peers in other political parties.
    The professionalisation of Politics…. Pushes Politics into a false consensus that has little or no passion or conviction. Older people might have a degree of conviction about what they do.
    Ultimately studying politics is no substitute for actually representing someone when their DLA claim is turned down.
    Ultimately thats what the MLAs in DUP,SDLP, Sinn Fein, UUP, NI21, TUV, UKIP and Green are actually doing on a daily basis….fair play to them.

  • Granni Trixie

    OMG. I meant ofcourse that many men play their part in CHILDREARING (well they couldn’t bear children, could they)

  • David McCann

    It’s a problem for the parties that are in terminal decline-if you have got no future prospects coming up then you’re done for.

    Is there anything wrong with older people serving? Not really-I didn’t actually say that the average age of 52 was a bad thing. Your paranoia about age is getting you to put something on the post that was never there in the first place.

  • “Also Fourth is the Alliance party with their average MLA being 55 years old. This did surprise me a bit as I thought Alliance would have naturally had a much more youth orientated party…”


    I don’t find this surprising at all. In Israel the soldiers’ vote, which is mainly of 18-21 y.o. people of both sexes doing their national service, is normally much more right-wing than that of the general electorate. Young people usually don’t have an appreciation for the difficulties in making major changes in a democracy or of the implications of sectarian or nationalist policies. I would guess that the average age of Alliance voters tends to be higher than that of other parties. Also Alliance MLA’s tend to be professionals–people who have spent years attaining graduate degrees often doctorates and then establishing professional practices.

  • Granni Trixie

    David: keep digging.

    Twitch: you really don’t understand APNI.

  • I’m paranoid about many things. Age isnt one of them.
    “Parties in terminal decline”????
    It looks a little like you have already decided who these Parties might be and decided age profile is some kind of evidence.
    And the “evidence” doesnt really stack up.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Of course the parties make time for older people. Pensioners have bugger all to do all day so they while away the the time by setting themselves up as crusading campaigners, and they’re not the sort of people who forget to vote. A small proportion of students do the same thing of course, but they don’t quite have the same zeal.

  • David McCann

    No I didn’t! I said if your party is in decline and you have no future leaders etc coming up then it is a real problem-meaning-they are more vulnerable than other parties.

    This post is you read the first line came out of a research project earlier this week; it didn;t come out of ‘I feel politicians are too old and I’m going to show how old they are’ You attached that to the piece, not me.

    I’d also point out that nowhere did I say older MLAs should step down.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Also Alliance MLA’s tend to be professionals–people who have spent years attaining graduate degrees often doctorates and then establishing professional practices.

    This is laughably inaccurate. The only doctor on the Alliance front bench is Stephen Farry, and prior to being MLA his career was in academia which, as anyone in the know knows, pays bugger all. The last time there was an Alliancer with his own practice was Alderdice, and before then you’d have to be talking about someone like Oliver Napier (whose practice is staffed by his sons these days, I believe).

    MLAs such as Chris Lyttle, Naomi Long, David Ford and Judith Cochrane do not come from money.

    Run your eye down the SDLP front bench past and present and you’ll run across several legal practice and numerous barristers. There’s a few barristers on the current DUP front bench as well.


    There can be issues of culture within a party that can lead to it being defined by old, established types clinging on. This is the UUP’s problem. It isn’t a problem, to my knowledge, in any of the other big parties. Certainly in Alliance, anytime I’ve been there I was quite struck by the people, well into their 60s or 70s, who were encouraging and supporting younger newcomers into picking up the baton. In the DUP or SF I suspect you have less of a problem with the old guard and more of an issue with getting yourself into the right clique.

  • Young People have a NI Youth Forum or something which is a kind of crèche where Political parties put their children..
    Some will succeed of course. There is some talent around it.
    And theres all sorts of bizarre help for budding politicos like the Washington-Ireland thing.
    All a load of nonsense.

  • In fairness to the Alliance Party, that encouragement and support as Comrade Stalin puts it…is not merely about “age”. Its also cultural.
    Those older people are part of the more “unworldly”, nice, churchy side of Alliance…its better values if you like.

  • Charles_Gould

    I see the Alliance Party minister is erecting another peace wall in East Belfast. At a time when peace walls should fall Alliance’s minister is putting them up!

    How does that square with a shared future?

  • Comrade Stalin

    fjh, yes it is indeed cultural.


    Ford is opposed to peace walls to the point of fanaticism so I was surprised to see that about St Matthew’s in the news this morning. I can’t imagine he’s at all happy about the decision but there must have been prevailing circumstances requiring that the fence be built. I see that the fence is retractable; he probably made that a condition of support for the funding.

  • Ford is happy enough to sacrifice any principle to stay in Office.
    Nobody should be surprised at any Alliance U-turn.

  • Granni Trixie


    You are so predictable.
    As I have commented previously on Slugger I wonder what APNI has done to generate such hatred in you?

  • Neil

    I see the Alliance Party minister is erecting another peace wall in East Belfast. At a time when peace walls should fall Alliance’s minister is putting them up!

    How does that square with a shared future?

    Charles, who should bear the responsibility of sustaining broken windows etc. should the walls come down? Probably the people who live under them who want (or would say, need) them to remain.

    The problems need dealt with first, then the walls come down as a matter of course. What we don’t want to be doing is pulling the walls down so some tortured souls on the Malone Road can feel a bit better about themselves while Mabel and Siobhan in East Belfast are sweeping up glass and keeping their kids in rear facing rooms inside their homes.

  • Granni Trixie.
    Dont kid yourself.
    In case you hadn’t noticed your Party colleagues in East Belfast, East Antrim and North Down have been the victims of the most disgusting and very real hatred over the past twelve months.
    You would really be better accusing people, who fire-bomb offices, and throw stones thru children’s bedroom windows of “hatred”.
    Whatever I feel about your Party is NOT “hatred” and the kind of hyperbole you employ does you or your Party little credit.

  • Im afraid Neil is right.
    There are quite a lot of invisible walls dictated by geography.
    Coagh and Ardboe in Tyrone.
    Aghalee and Aghagallon in South Antrim.
    A “wall” can be 20ft high or simply two miles of grazing cows.
    And of course walls are dictated by Class.
    The good folks in Cultra and Marino might agonise about those ghastly walls in Belfast….but try planning a NIHE Housing Estate for working class people in their neck of the woods and just watch the reaction.

  • Granni Trixie

    Happy to have rattled your cage FJH.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Hyperbole is claiming that the justice minister made a u-turn. He has made a point of reducing the building of peace walls (or fences) but nobody could commit to a policy of never building one again.

  • A course correction.

  • “The last time there was an Alliancer with his own practice was Alderdice, and before then you’d have to be talking about someone like Oliver Napier.”


    My observations do date from over a decade ago–when Alderdice was leader and then Assembly speaker. There were a number of prominent psychiatrists within Alliance at that time, even if they weren’t necessarily MLAs. Again, I make no comparison with the SDLP. And I never made any statement about Alliance people coming from money–most I imagine are middle class and have worked hard for whatever they’ve achieved.

  • “The last time there was an Alliancer with his own practice was Alderdice, and before then you’d have to be talking about someone like Oliver Napier.”


    The very people you mentioned were among those I interviewed back in 1998: Farry, Napier, the Alderdice brothers, Seamus Close, MLA Bell from Bangor, and then a number of younger Alliance supporters. Possibly I got a distorted impression from the selection of the people I interviewed.

  • Charles_Gould

    Thanks CS I acknowledge your reply to my post on peace walls and I am in agreement with your position.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Why should the age of a candidate matter to anyone even to young voters, or the gender of a candidate matter to anyone even to a female voter?

    Being of a similar age, why should there be an assumption that I would have and imperative to vote for say Colum Eastwood on a matter of generational, or biological narcissism. Is that no different than religious or nationalistic narcissism?

    I judge candidates on their ability and track record, not their similarities to me.

  • Granni Trixie

    Ofcourse the ability and track record of a candidate is (or ought to be) the basis of voting for someone. However, women are over half the population yet are little represented at. Stormont (as in other sectors of public life). A factor which any forward looking party ought to analyse and try to put right otherwise they are missing out on the benefits of having a variety of perspectives. Diversity is the name of the game hence ideally I would like to see greater representation of people with disabilities, young people and other minorities.

    In practice well established males do best in selection so whilst I do not go for quotas,by awareness raising and goal setting a political party can address the problem of lack of diversity in representation,

  • Well said.

  • Greenflag

    Age is often equivocated as experience , maturity , wisdom etc . But it’s not always the case and theres strong evidence to suggest that increasing senility brings with it a refusal to accept new realities be they be political , economic or social .

    There is also the possibility particularly in NI and amongst politicians that experience of 20 or 30 years is just one years experience repeated 20 or 30 times . Some don’t learn from experience good , bad or indifferent and many haven’t had a new idea since the night they were elected .

    It’s No Go the Government Grant .
    It’s No Go the election .
    Sit on your arse for as long as it lasts .
    And hang your hat on a pension .

    the above paraphrased from Louis Mac Nieces’s

    ‘Bagpipe Music”

    From Mr Louis Mac Niece’s