Can Sinn Féin win three seats in Belfast?

Last night’s announcement that Strangford MLA Jonathan Bell will be the DUP parliamentary candidate for South Belfast means that it is now looking likely that all of the “big five” parties in Northern Ireland will be running candidates in all constituencies in Belfast. Sinn Féin have been breathing down the necks of the DUP in North Belfast for some time. However, Sinn Féin’s selection of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, the Lord Mayor of Belfast from 2013-14, has led some to wonder if Sinn Féin could pull off the formerly unthinkable and win three of the four Belfast Westminster seats. West Belfast is, of course, in the bag for Sinn Féin, having the fourth largest majority by share of the vote at the 2010 General Election.

It will be very, very hard. The bookies make Sinn Féin a 6/1 longshot in North Belfast, and they aren’t currently even listed as a contender in South Belfast. In terms of religious demographics, both seats are similar. Both North and South Belfast had a larger Protestant community than a Catholic community in 2001, and both had a larger Catholic community than a Protestant community at the 2011 census. With regard to the Catholic community, they are both very close to being a microcosm of Northern Ireland as a whole (NI: 45.14% Catholic, South Belfast: 44.01%, North Belfast: 46.94%). Economically, South Belfast has a more middle class population, with 37% of working age adults engaged in professional or managerial occupations, against 22% in North Belfast. Accordingly, Sinn Féin have long been the largest Nationalist party in North Belfast, and the SDLP the largest in the South.

This chart, showing the share of the vote by party in South Belfast since 1997, shows the enormous challenge facing Sinn Féin in South Belfast.

S Belfast Shares

Excluding the 2010 General Election, where they did not stand to give the SDLP a clear run at the seat, the SF vote in South Belfast has been broadly stable since the turn of the millennium. At the 2011 Assembly election they were the fifth largest party. In order to win the seat in May, they will have to jump four places up the table, a tricky ask. Although the highly fragmented nature of politics in South Belfast also highlights an opportunity; given the fact that the seat is, uniquely in the UK, a five-way marginal, this means that it can be won with a very low share of the vote. In 2010, the lowest winning share of the vote was the 29.1% won by Liberal Democrat Simon Wright in Norwich South. It is very possible that the winner of South Belfast could do so with the lowest share of the vote in the UK. All five parties will think that they have a shot at the seat.

If you aggregate all of the Unionist, Nationalist, and Others votes in the constituency, then a picture emerges of both demographic change from unionist to nationalist, and an increase in the fortunes of the non-aligned parties, the Alliance Party and the Green Party. It is worth noting that, bar for a handful of votes in 2010, the unionist bloc has always been larger than the nationalist bloc, although they are now essentially tied.

S Belfast NUO Share

So, what needs to happen for Máirtín Ó Muilleoir to become elected as MP? Well, of course, he needs to win the most votes. However, since Sinn Féin currently lie fifth in the constituency, this means that he needs to beat four separate opponents. Firstly, he needs the higher of the two unionist parties to be as low as possible. This, of course, assumes that there will be no unionist unity candidate. If one emerges, then it will essentially boil down to a straight fight between the SDLP and the unionist candidate, and it will both raise the winning post far higher than the current level of SF support in the constituency, and will encourage some of his natural support to vote tactically for the SDLP. Secondly, he will need to get more votes than Paula Bradshaw, the Alliance candidate, who have gained votes in South Belfast in every election since 2003. Finally, and most difficult of all, he will need to convince a significant number of Alasdair McDonnell’s voters from 2010 to back him instead, in addition to picking up some 2010 non-voters. It is a daunting task.

S Belfast Votes

The long-term trend in South Belfast has been the implosion of the once-dominant UUP. From a nationalist point of view in 2015, the collapse of the UUP vote is turned from being a blessing into a curse. The DUP have well and truly taken over as the largest unionist party. The DUP usually receive a bump of between 1,500 and 2,500 votes in Westminster elections from their result at Assembly elections. The DUP received 7,845 first-preference votes in 2011. If they receive their traditional Westminster bump, and they polled strongly at the 2014 elections, then this means that they should be in line to receive close to 10,000 votes. This number will probably be the finishing line, barring any miraculous recovery in the UUP vote.

Mr Ó Muilleoir will be hoping for a nascent recovery in the UUP’s fortunes, as this would lower the number of votes needed to beat the unionist candidate. The UUP have almost no chance of winning themselves. A UUP recovery would also have the convenient side effect of taking votes from Paula Bradshaw, the Alliance candidate. A strong performance by Clare Bailey, the Green Party candidate, would also be convenient for ensuring that the Alliance Party don’t sneak through the field and capture the seat. Say a stronger than expected UUP performance keeps the DUP to around 9,000 votes. What would have to happen between the SDLP and Sinn Féin vote for SF to win?

A key problem is the bounce that Mr McDonnell receives at every Westminster election over the SDLP Assembly vote. This is not merely due to Sinn Féin voters voting tactically; there appeared to be roughly 1,000 of these voters, based on the results of the 2005 election. There appear to be around 1,500 voters that only show up at Westminster elections, and who cast their vote for the SDLP. He needs these voters to either vote for Sinn Féin, or stay at home. He will then need to convince all of those who tend to vote tactically for the SDLP at Westminster elections not to do so. If, having succeeded at all of these, he then managed to win 2,000 votes from the SDLP, and then found 2,000 new voters or non-voters to back his candidacy, he would then find himself with around 8,000 votes.

Despite being a near threefold increase in the Sinn Féin vote from the last time they stood in a Westminster election, it would almost certainly not be enough to outpoll the DUP.

It is very difficult to imagine a path to Sinn Féin winning South Belfast. Essentially they are hoping for a Lazarus-like recovery of the UUP, and complete collapse of support for a sitting SDLP MP. What he could achieve, certainly, is to do well enough to hand the seat to the DUP. It is doubtful that too many tears would be shed at the decapitation of their electoral opponents, and it tempting to surmise that this the real reason behind running one of their most popular candidates in the constituency.

North Belfast is a completely different story. Where South Belfast could, at least theoretically, be won by any of five candidates, North Belfast is a two horse race between Deputy DUP Leader Nigel Dodds and Gerry Kelly of Sinn Féin. The following chart shows how their relative fortunes have changed since 1997, when the seat was won easily by Cecil Walker of the UUP.

N Belfast Shares

The DUP lead over Sinn Féin has been broadly stable since 2007. The DUP lead can be mostly attributed to the fact that SDLP support has been higher than UUP support; when the nationalist and unionist votes are aggregated together, the unionist lead is very small.

N Belfast NUO Share

Similar to South Belfast, the route to a Sinn Féin victory runs through a weakening of the SDLP support, a strengthening of the UUP vote, and a monumental get out the vote effort. The task is orders of magnitude more straightforward, however. Unlike in South Belfast, where the situation is less clear cut, a unionist unity candidate would definitely win North Belfast, unless there was a nationalist unity candidate, in which case we would be in much the same place as we are now.

So could Sinn Féin win three seats in Belfast? Almost certainly not. A Sinn Féin win in South Belfast would be in the running for the biggest British or Irish political shock of all time. A win in North Belfast, whilst vastly more likely, looks to be a bridge too far for the present political cycle. However, some constituency polling in both constituencies might provide some fascinating clues about how the 7th of May might go. More of this, please!

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  • Dixie Elliott

    Máirtín Ó Dear!!

  • tmitch57

    Based on your line charts, I would tend to agree with your conclusions. But I wonder, Salmon, why does Alliance do so much better in South Belfast than in North? It is all just a matter of class makeup of the constituency and the per capita income of the residents? Or is it due to the much higher level of confrontation between the two main communities during both The Troubles and in the post-Troubles period of the last decade in NB than in SB?

  • mickfealty

    As you say Peter, the party has to jump a hell of a long way to win. Add to that they didn’t stand in 2010, so we have no idea how that support behaves under the much higher pressure of FPTP.

    Bill White makes the important point on Twitter about incumbency. Big Al is dug in, with the most effective constituency party the SDLP has in NI.

    I’m sceptical too because SF always hype their candidates who stand against the SDLP leader. They did it with Mitchel against Durkan, Ruane against Ritchie, now Mairtin against Big Al. They lost by 5k and 6k respectively in Foyle and S Down.

    Mairtin’s got great PR profile, but STV is a boots on the ground operation. It’s that operation he’s facing here, and a more genteel version of a keep the unionists out the SDLP faces in FST. Personally I think the best they will actually be hoping for is for Al to lose to Alliance, just to throw the SDLP into a tailspin.

  • Floreat Ultonia

    Any comeback from MOM?

  • Jay

    I’m quietly confident about NB. I’ve heard friends and family, who haven’t voted in years, chatting about making it to the polling station this year.

  • mickfealty

    They’ve been working NB pretty hard for most of that time and their reward came with a council seat from SF last year. Truth is you struggle to see momentum in nationalism generally other than consolidation.

  • Gerry Lynch

    The article has a big screaming melodramatic headline and then basically answers it by saying “um, well, no, probably only one”.
    Mairitin is the best possible candidate for SF in South Belfast, and his 17.1% in Balmoral last year was an excellent result for SF in that territory. And still a light year behind what he’d need to do to win South Belfast in a Westminster election. And it was better than the SF result anywhere else in South Belfast (including, to my surprise, Botanic). I’m not sure why the SF online contingent is so massively ramping Mairtin when he isn’t going to win.
    As for North Belfast, while I’m no fan of Nigel Dodds, I still can’t see him losing. There are still more Unionist than Nationalist voters in the constitutency; electorates in inner-city Loyalist areas have started holding up very well over the past 8 years or so, the demographic collapse of the ’80s and ’90s seems to be over; and SF are trapped in a bind in terms of candidate selection. SF are starting to lose votes to their dark green fringe and to abstention, but at the same time only a cuddly unthreatening candidate with no Troubles record could convince the Upper Antrim Road to hold its nose and vote tactically.

  • Gerry Lynch

    The voting patterns are a matter of class make-up. The Markets, with no ‘hard interface’, is as much an SF stronghold, for example, than the New Lodge or the Short Strand. Similarly, the leafy and predominantly Catholic North Circular Road has no more SF votes than Balmoral.
    There were never riots up the Malone Road or up the Antrim Road past a certain point either. It’s worth pointing out, however, that South Belfast did have its share of bombings and sectarian assassinations.

  • hugh mccloy

    rendering a tweet looks different in both posts as he replied twice to same tweet

  • mjh

    It would make sense for SF to ramp Mairtin in order to protect their vote from being squeezed. The more they can create the illusion that O’Muilleoir has a real chance of taking the seat, the fewer SF voters will switch tactically to McDonnell.

    The fewer SF voters vote tactically for McDonnell, the more potent becomes the theme of the inevitability of SDLP decline. And if McDonnell loses the seat in the process? Well, “Not our fault. We repeatedly offered to withdraw – but they spurned the offer” they can say, as they invite former SDLP voters to unite behind them.

  • salmonofdata

    I’ve discovered writing headlines is hard. I’ve a newfound respect for the craft of the subeditor. The only other headline I could think of was “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like Ó Muilleoir”, but didn’t think there would be enough Queens of the Stone Age fans to get the reference.

  • Floreat Ultonia

    Thanks Morph

  • T.E.Lawrence

    That was a good result for Alliance and Nuala McAllister in the Castle Ward last year. She started off with 1020 FPV against the 2nd SF candidate 1038 FPV but was able to get the N121 and SDLP transfers to make it home

  • T.E.Lawrence

    ‘The Markets with no “hard interface”‘ Don’t know about that one Gerry. Donegall Pass is a pretty strong loyalist district !

  • Floreat Ultonia

    You’re on the metal today, Salmon

    I hear there was a decent turnout for the newly-organised Green group in Cassidy’s bar (Antrim/ Limestone corner) the other day. Go for it guys

  • Colin Lamont

    What of Alliance and DUP chances in South?

  • Gerrynearly

    Green group? As in the Green Party? Serious question!

  • BetsyGray

    I do remember McDonnell stating quite categorically that he was a republican…so do we have two hues of republicans running in South Belfast…?…
    SB is going to be an exciting one to watch as its seems to be a genuine marginal….(remember the potential next Tory leader Portillo losing his seat with a 17.4% swing in 1997)..its up for grabs..big Al is looking over his shoulder..the has become a slight mirror reflection of North Down only with a green tinted reflection this time.
    As for NB its a straight scrap between GK and Deputy Dodds…I’m thinking a Kelly win is possible…(1000-1500 votes shift)..I’m not going to get into the mechanics on this one….we all know them….it’ll take forever and a day….
    The West is safe….and asleep.

  • Floreat Ultonia

    Gerry- aye, North and West Belfast GP. There’s a facebook page for more details.

  • Gerrynearly

    That’s an unusual location!

  • Kevin Breslin

    No

  • Tochais Siorai

    6/1 seems a bit of value for Kelly here but whatever happens I’d say NB is definitely the constituency with the biggest number of people who will vote negatively i.e. against a candidate rather than for someone.

  • mickfealty

    You’ll get used to it, but the data is sound and a very useful antidote to the magical thinking of party hacks. So keep on keeping on!!

    The most graphic hint from the data charts lie in the Westminster bumps for McDonnell. Accepting what GL says about Mairtin being the best possible candidate, SF need ‘big mo’, and neither they nor the SDLP have it.

    Despite the steadily rising Catholic birth rate since 1998, Nationalism is stuck where it was about then. That’s effectively a substantial loss of ground. Parable of the servant who buried his talent rather than spending it on good works comes to mind.

    Too many excitable boys and girls in the media – overly committed to the deterministic fallacy that we are already at the end of NI history rather than at its new beginning – have failed to notice the long term effects of poor investment in the nationalist political game.

    Thus the propensity towards magical thinking… 😉

  • SDLP supporter

    Yes, Gerry, 226 troubles-related deaths in South Belfast,
    the vast majority caused by the paramilitaries and the biggest single agent ofkilling was the Provisional IRA, the paramilitary wing of Sinn Fein to whichMairtin and his associates had to pledge ‘unconditional support for the armed struggle’ (Sinn Fein Ard Fheis resolution 1983).

    Given that the Andersonstown News (proprietor, M. OMuilleoir) over the years relentlessly baited the former SDLP MP/Assembly Member for West Belfast, Joe Hendron, for having the temerity to (shock, horror) live in South Belfast, less than a mile from Kennedy Way, it is mildly amusing to see and hear Mairtin extolling the virtues of South Belfast when neither he nor his successor as Balmoral Sinn Fein councillor actually live in the constituency, nor even in Balmoral
    electoral area.

    I do acknowledge that Mairtin was a pretty good Lord Mayor
    of Belfast, but we’ve had a run of pretty pleasant LMs in recent years between Naomi Long, Gavin Robinson, Mairtin and now Nichola Mallon.

    Mairtin has impressive PR and self promotion skills and he
    maximised these during his stint as LM, when you are everybody’s friend.

    The problem will be for him selling his ‘Ambassador for
    South Belfast’ trope , promoting economic development blah-blah as an abstentionist MP. His party, Sinn Fein has held the West Belfast seat fortwenty seven out of the past thirty two years and has presided over a constituency which has some of the worst economic and social problems anywhere in western Europe.

    This was duly pinpointed in a notorious ‘Andersonstown News’ editorial a few years back before, of course, Adams brought the editorial writer to heel and extracted a grovelling apology.

  • Gerry Lynch

    The more votes O Muilleoir gets, the better it would be for either of them. But it looks a bridge too far for Alliance at this stage, especially as I don’t think Paula Bradshaw will quite pull the vote that Anna Lo did, and Alliance has other fish to fry in East Belfast that will consume a lot of the time and effort of its South Belfast activists. Or at least it should do!
    The DUP could potentially scrape it, especially if O Mulleoir polls a lot more than recent SF candidates. It was narrowly ahead of the SDLP in the Assembly elections, for example. Big Al would, traditionally, have had a big tactical pull and personal vote in several directions (I was surprised to seem him get a reasonable smattering of votes in Belvoir boxes, for example). I’d make him favourite. If issues shifted votes in a big way, he might be too pro-Life for his constituency, and that might bleed enough votes off to put him in trouble. Historically, they don’t shift enormous numbers of votes in NI in my experience.

  • Gerry Lynch

    Mick, the problem is that NI politics isn’t about United Ireland vs United Kingdom, it’s Ussuns vs Themmuns. The demographics ought to make reunification possible well within our lifetimes. Yet political Nationalism has no clue about making this happen, other than waiting to outbreed themmuns. Meanwhile, Unionism seems determined to alienate as many Catholics who are basically content in the UK as it can.
    Right now, the sums for reunification really don’t add up, but they were coming close to doing so in the 2000s and they could well again in the future, especially if NI starts seeing its public expenditure levels drift towards those found in the poorer regions of England. Neither side has a clue what to do in that sort of eventuality.

  • Gerry Lynch

    Why not? Great for public transport.

  • Gerry Lynch

    I think that’s spot on, mjh.

  • Gerry Lynch

    Yes, but there’s commercial land, carparks, and some busy “non-territorial” roads separating them. Compare with Alliance Avenue or Halliday’s Road…

  • Gerrynearly

    I agree! And a great wee bar. Just wouldn’t have thought it was very fertile territory for the Green Party!

  • mickfealty

    The DUP have finally found the right candidate for South Belfast I think… If it doesn’t fall this time, maybe next…

  • tmitch57

    Thanks, Gerry. I know that Robert Bradford was assassinated there.

  • Colin Lamont

    Interesting. Think East, North and South Belfast could all be decided by small margins.

  • Colin Lamont

    What makes him the right candidate do you think? I suppose he couldn’t be more underwhelming than Spratt. Although I think Patterson woulda brought out a bigger working class loyalist vote. If Anna had run she would have stood a v good chance being elected.

  • Paddy Reilly

    The censal information with regard to North Belfast (http://tinyurl.com/mrsbtzf) indicates that this constituency has both a rising Catholic and falling Protestant population, and that by 2011 the Catholic population (48,126) had risen to well above the Protestant one (46,821). Given these population shifts between 2001 and 2011, the null hypothesis is that they have continued in the period 2011-15.

    Assuming further that Catholic = SF + SDLP voter and Protestant = DUP + UUP, then we would expect that there are now sufficient Nationalist voters in the constituency to elect one of their number as M.P. While Gerry Kelly is probably not the most obvious unity candidate, it is still the case that SF has a very efficient machine for getting its voters out.

    It should also be noted that the SDLP vote continues to decline outside those areas where it has a sitting M.P., as SF, in the eyes of Nationalist voters at least, becomes more respectable and statesman-like.

    Also, Unionists have contrived to lose a Unionist M.P. in each of the previous eight elections. They are on a losing streak and Nationalists are on a winning one.

    So all in all, if there is going to be any movement in the NI scene, I would expect it to be here. It is impossible to tell how things will finally pan out because of the inequities of the FPTP system, but I will venture that Nigel Dodds has no room for complacency and Gerry Kelly none for premature despondency.

  • Gerry Lynch

    You do realise under 18s don’t have the vote, Paddy?

  • Gaygael

    You might be surprised. There is a presumption about the Green Party and what territory might be fertile for the party.
    Have a look at Chelmsley Wood in Solihull.
    We got a decent turnout and a few new members after that meeting. We are building. Slowly and surely. Start small, dig deep roots and cultivate growth. Yes it’s a deliberately arboraial metaphor. We are getting new members every week and we must convert those members into activists. It’s going to be a long hard slog, but it’s one we are prepared for.

  • Gaygael

    So do I. And after it swings unionist when we come back in Westminster 2020, expect to see minister O’Muilieor as the sf candidate.
    Happy to decapitate the SDLP leader.

    I thought it was a ruse by Sinn Fein at first, but the energy he is putting into his touring of constiuency community groups and interest suggest that hep may be more serious.
    Either a ruse or a targeted decapitation of the SDLP leader. Seems like it’s the second option.

    But even then, surely they would rather Big Al continues to bumble on as SDLP leader, post WM and do nothing to halt what seems their terminal decline,

  • Gerrynearly

    Good luck to you.As I’ve said on here before, the Greens are the party that most of my A level pupils are impressed with, but they are all mostly middle class kids. Different kettle of fish in other parts of Belfast though

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I am glad I am not the only one who sees M O’M as a bit overrated.

    As you say, he did a great job as Lord Mayor, but the way to do that job is to get out and about and meet lots of people, which is something he’s good at.

    It’s not clear to me what else he is actually good for, outside of name-dropping. Not only does he like selfies, but he seems to have a real need to validate himself by talking about all the important people he meets. A few days ago he posted a tweet about how he met the head of a big American airline to encourage him to set up a Boston-Belfast flight. I pictured the boardroom discussion – “you know guys, now that the United Belfast-Newark flight is showing poor results we’re all pretty clear that connections between NI and the US don’t look justifiable, but to hell with that, the infectious enthusiasm of the new MLA for South Belfast changed my mind – screw our shareholders, let’s run a flight that nobody will use”.

  • Paddy Reilly

    I do. The late Horseman reproached me for not using data for over 18 year olds. But I find that the figures for the whole population work just as well, when predicting which way a constituency will turn, or even how many MLAs will be returned.

    Why this should be I am not sure. It could be that there are some Protestants who do not vote at all for religious reasons, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Reformed Presbyterians and (some) Brethren; it could be that there are people who are recorded as Protestant who are actually married and parent to Catholics and therefore lost to Unionism; it could be that there are more Protestant Alliance voters than Catholic ones, causing Unionism to lose out; it could be that there are more Protestants from overseas who do not identify with their alleged co-religionists in NI and don’t vote at all; it could be that Unionism is more split than Nationalism, and fields too many candidates.

    So all in all, it seems that the equation Catholic = Nationalist voter is slightly more true than the other equation, Protestant = Unionist voter. Not by many, admittedly; perhaps only a couple of thousand, but significantly so. True Blue Unionists will always deny this and assert the reverse, I know. But I don’t think the electoral returns bear them out.

    One has only to look at the 2011 Assembly results for the four largest parties in North Belfast:-

    DUP 12,412

    SF 10,671

    SDLP 4,025

    UUP 2,758

    This gives Unionism an advantage of 476 votes over Nationalism, at a time when Nationalism or rather Catholicism has an advantage of 1,305 over Protestantism in the population as a whole. This suggests to me that the weans don’t make a great deal of difference: about 2,000 votes it seems, which may well have evaporated by May 2015.

    So all in all, Nigel Dodds and his merry men should not be making calculations based on unhatched chicks.

  • Jay

    Kelly, Morph. In my family there’s 6 new/returning voters this year. There’s a few mates that intend to vote as well, that previously haven’t. There is definitely an attitude change from “sure what’s the point” to “here, we could win this one”… Its primarily an us and them issue but sure isn’t everything in NI?

  • BetsyGray

    Spot on analysis, Sinn Fein will eventually capture the SB seat anyway..as they fire up their electoral machine to target this seat over time..and it something they’re amazingly good at.

  • Gopher

    Quite simply the third nationalist seat in the next assembly election is looking very problematical so rather than risk Alex losing his seat as he has no slack left in his system and the whacky micro socialist parties nibbling votes around his base its time for SF to make sure if a nationalist loses that third seat its the SDLP.

    All this election is, is a profile building exercise for Martin ‘O, though if Alasdair loses the seat to whoever (not Martin O for certain) thats a bonus for SF.

  • Gerry Lynch

    Regarding your last para: sure, but there’s no more evidence that Dodds will lose based on ignoring the statistics in your post than Kelly will be on winning. And I’ll repeat – you can’t be bothered finding out the total number of people actually entitled to vote in your sample in North Belfast (especially over 18s by Community Background – easy to find off the Census database and not as convenient to your ‘analysis’).

    And if you think SF will win North Belfast, that will only happen if it is going to be tight in both 2015 and 2020, so what about the Latvian and Nigerian Protestants, Russian and South Indian Orthodox, and Filipino Catholics, all numerous on the North Belfast register, especially the latter two groups?

    Why do you bother ramping on comments threads on Slugger? Do you think shouting ‘we’re going to outbreed the Prods’ is going to win North Belfast for SF, let alone deliver a United Ireland?

  • Gerry Lynch

    The Greens’ vote in North Belfast was historically higher in working-class Oldpark than more mixed Castle.

  • Gerry Lynch

    If it ever gets to that stage (and I think that’s Bounre-esque fantasy) Unionists and many SDLP will vote tactically for Alliance against SF… O Muilleoir for the South? Purest ramping! Why do you bother when the Slugger comments zone wll sling few, probably no, votes.

  • mickfealty

    Winning South is like winning the Rugby World Cup, you need to have a game plan for several very different constituencies. Jonathan can pass muster as a liberal, yet he is also an utter party loyalist. UU genes in a DU body. And, I suspect, he’s good on the doorstep.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Several points to be answered here. I will start with the sociological one and deal with the abusive one later.

    what about the Latvian and Nigerian Protestants, Russian and South Indian Orthodox, and Filipino Catholics, all numerous on the North Belfast register, especially the latter two groups?

    Latvians are 50/50 Catholic/Lutheran. In my experience their knowledge of religion is abysmal, and they have certainly not developed the uniquely Northern Irish perversion of substituting religion for politics.

    What we have here is a phenomenon found all over U.K. of immigrants moving into cheap inner city houses vacated by upwardly mobile natives. My impression- feel free to correct me- is that in Belfast Catholic areas housing is in much greater demand than elsewhere. When searching for a house I found that Catholic areas were about £10,000 more expensive than Protestant ones. There seem to be a lot of decaying Protestant areas, particularly in North Belfast, that no Fenian would dare move in to. These, I suspect, have been sold to the sort of incomers you enumerate.

    But what will the electoral effect of this be? Well, you have an area which was once solidly Protestant, working class and therefore definitely Unionist. It is now filling up with incomers. They are not definitely Unionist. I’m sure as we speak Nigel Dodd’s men are trying to persuade them that they should be; but equally so are Gerry Kelly’s trying to make them SF. They quite often gravitate to Alliance: look at Anna Lo. And surprisingly, Sinn Féin has also done quite a good job attracting the Odds and Sods’ vote: I believe they have a Muslim councillor. The DUP aren’t actually the most immigrant friendly of outfits. But to a large extent, once the incomers have listened to the various arguments, they will conclude that it is better to leave these things to the mad Irish and not get involved.

    So the overall effect is that an area which once returned 1,000 sure votes for the DUP will now only produce 500, with 200 for Alliance, 50 for SF and 250 abstentions.

    Look at the City Council and we can see how this works: the Unionist vote is barely a third of the total.

    Now obviously, in a FPTP election this would work to the benefit of Gerry Kelly, just as in South Belfast the strong Alliance vote helps the SDLP.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Why do you bother ramping on comments threads on Slugger? Do you think shouting ‘we’re going to outbreed the Prods’ is going to win North Belfast for SF, let alone deliver a United Ireland?

    I would not be so unscientific as to identify myself overly with one or the other party: that would be triumphalism, not psephology.

    Nor would I make statements like ‘outbreed the Prods’. It isn’t a matter of Catholics ‘outbreeding’ Protestants, Catholics have always outnumbered Protestants in the Province of Ulster, it is rather a matter of a pre-existing Unionist gerrymander gradually but inevitably unravelling.

    I did not state that Gerry Kelly would inevitably win; I merely questioned your statement that only Nigel Dodds could do so.

    Do I think my contribution will win North Belfast for SF? No: but I hope it would encourage them not to give up before the campaign has even started. But this is unnecessary: Gerry Kelly is, I think, much much more optimistic about his chances than I am. So really I am only doing my bit to make concerned parties want to go to the polls.

    Do I think this is going to deliver a United Ireland? No: but I think 9 Nationalist MPs out of 18 would be a pretty potent argument for negotiating the same.

    Why do you bother ramping on comments threads on Slugger? As so often in a NI context, the answer is arrived at by reversing the statement: Why do you? I was a little puzzled by this ramping word, suspecting it might be something minority and unpleasant, and this what I culled from the Urban Dictionary “The process in which one sticks his/her finger inside their own, or someone else’s, anal cavity and then proceeds to dig deeply inside one’s nose to embrace the smell of fecal matter while also pulling out a tasty treat.”

    That’s not very nice, is it? We are having a discussion about a very small number of votes to be cast in an election this year. We both, I think, accept that the DUP is going to win a third and more of the votes, and SF is also going to win a third and more. What we are arguing about is how the last 2,000 votes will fall, leaving aside those which are cast for other parties.

    You are entitled to say they will definitely go one way and I am entitled to say why I think they may not.

  • Paddy Reilly

    you can’t be bothered finding out the total number of people actually entitled to vote in your sample in North Belfast (especially over 18s by Community Background – easy to find off the Census database and not as convenient to your ‘analysis’).

    Well you see Gerry, the census was taken in 2011 and it’s now
    2015, so the censal figures would be out of date anyway.

    I have the impression that the under 18s are not particularly slanted to the Catholic side: the big growth spurt was earlier, and shows up in the 20 year olds.

    We also have to factor in the possibility of demographic change as well. But it is observable that on this chart, every single constituency with a Catholic majority/plurality has elected a Nationalist MP, and every constituency with a Protestant one has elected a Unionist, or in one case an Alliance MP with a Protestant and Unionist background. The only apparent exception is North Belfast, and it is not an exception because the last General Election was held when there was still a Protestant majority there.

    All I can see is that all the Unionist/DUP lines on the chart are going down and the SF one is going up. When did they/do they cross over? I can’t say exactly but I’d reckon it’s about now.

  • sean treacy

    Elliot ;read yesterdays Irish News to see what NICVA head McALEAVEY has to say and then tell me that Mairtin was far off the mark with his comments.

  • Abucs

    You hooked me in with the title but followed it up with a good synapsis of the electorates.

    There’s a job waiting for you somewhere at a large newspaper business (if there are any such businesses left).

  • Davros64

    Yeah, so big they could have held it in Two phone-boxes…

  • Floreat Ultonia

    About 15 people- there’s a group photo on facebook.

    That’s more than your favorite party’s vote in Carrickfergus in the 2014 Council Elections btw.

  • Davros64

    Ok, 3 phone boxes, If true.
    And who are my ‘favourite’ (See you Still Can’t Spell!) party then?

  • Floreat Ultonia

    Take yer pick. SDLP and SF finished equal last with a big fat zero 😉

    Do you never bore of these witless trolls?

  • Davros64

    No-one voted for those two parties? Find that hard to believe…
    And why the ‘winky’ thing? Just makes you look like a fat w**k!

    As for the last retort, surely your specialist subject!
    Along with Hypocrisy!!!
    ?

  • Joe_Hoggs

    And he’s in the Orage, Spratt wasn’t and that was an issue for some.

  • rtozier2011

    ‘A unionist unity candidate would definitely win in North Belfast’. There will be one. Add together DUP and UUP votes from last time, you get 47.7%, with Sinn Fein in 2nd place on 34%. That would require a swing of only 6.9%, hardly too much to claim it as definitely impossible. ‘If there was a nationalist unity candidate we would be in much the same place.’ At the last election, with neither nats nor unis unified, the DUP won over SF by a margin of 6% – 40% to 34%, requiring a 3% swing. If both were unified, this would be unionists 47.7%, nationalists 46.3%, requiring only a 0.7% swing. Hardly too little of a difference to be described as ‘much the same place.’