This Council has 41 councillors. At the last election the UUP was the only party to win seats in all seven District Electoral Areas (DEA’s). The DUP and SF were each represented in 6, the SDLP in 4 and Alliance in 3. Despite losing 5 seats between them unionists still held a majority of five.
Their vote share had eroded significantly from the previous election in 2014.
The unionist tally included one Independent, Paul Berry (Cusher).
There were 8 seat changes and every DEA was affected. In Armagh SF took a seat from the DUP, and another from the SDLP in Cusher. Alliance gained a seat from the SDLP in Banbridge, from the UUP in Lagan River, and from the DUP in Lurgan. But the SDLP made up for its losses. In Portadown it gained a seat, as did the DUP, with the losers being UKIP and the UUP. And in Craigavon the SDLP took a DUP seat.
The full make-up of the council in 2014 and 2019 can be seen in the chart below.
Only Alliance and the DUP show a significant increase in vote share. The UUP suffered a major drop. Losses by Other Unionists (largely the TUV and PUP) robbed the DUP of vital transfers which had bolstered their seat numbers in the past. It is quite something to make a net loss of two seats despite increasing your first preferences by 3.4% points. (As a side note this is an important lesson for those who think that all the DUP has to do to recover lost Assembly seats is to win back voters who deserted to the TUV. Simply increasing your first preferences by pulling forward transfers from candidates who were going to lose any way leaves you no better off. You have to take first preferences from candidates who otherwise would have won, or at least transfers from those who previously would not have given them to you.)
Comparing the council votes in 2019 with the Assembly votes in Upper Bann and Newry & Armagh (the two constituencies which cover the bulk of the council area) we find the unionist vote down 3% points in both. In Upper Bann, which covers four and a half of the DEA’s the nationalist share shows no movement, while ‘others’ were up 3 points. In Newry & Armagh both nationalists and ‘others’ achieved growth around 1%.
Within those broad movements the UUP and SDLP did particularly badly. The UUP lost between 6 and 7% points while the SDLP was down between 7 and 8% points. Both must fear losses here. The biggest vote improvement was made by SF, up 7% points in each constituency. Holding those votes would produce seat gains. The UUP weakness creates opportunities for the DUP and could put the TUV in contention in some places. Any Alliance gain is most likely dependent on outperforming its Assembly vote, although early exits by SDLP or UUP candidates could generate new transfer opportunities for them.
Outlook by DEA
As well as giving the historical data for the last election in 2019, each table contains two projections.
The first, headed ‘Based on Ass’22’, shows an estimate for the change in the party quota based on the change in its vote between 2019 and 2022 in the relevant constituency or constituencies. I then show where this might put a seat under threat or present a possible gain.
The second projection is changed in the light of the headline figures in the latest Lucid Talk poll. However, since the detailed tables are not published until later, I have been unable to use some of the information I normally rely on.
I have departed from the Assembly vote and the Lucid Talk poll in one respect. I have assumed that Independents who were elected in 2019 will hold onto all or most of their vote in this election, based on the tendency for this to happen in previous council elections.
Please remember that this is not intended to be a prediction. In contrast to my conservative treatment of Independents seeking re-election, I have included party gains and losses which are a long shot, as well as those which are more likely. This is to reflect the degree of uncertainty inherent in making these estimates. Treat them as a guide as to what to look out for, or for making your own judgements.
My Best bet for each DEA is just a bit of fun. It is too simplified to capture all the possibilities and may therefore be wrong as often as it is right.
Only two of the six outgoing councillors are up for re-election this time, the UUP and one SDLP. And their parties will need whatever advantage that might give them.
The UUP position looks particularly perilous. It appears that the unionist seat will probably go to the DUP this time. Since the TUV did not contest the DEA last time there is large uncertainty over how much of the DUP vote it can attract, so we have to keep open the possibility that it could take the UUP seat instead. But that is highly unlikely.
It is possible that all three Sinn Feín could be elected on the first count with significant surpluses to distribute. They are unlikely to be of much help to Aontú. In the Assembly elections SF transferred only 1 vote to Aontú for every 11 to SDLP. And they transferred 19% to Alliance.
The second SDLP candidate could have great trouble getting and staying ahead of Alliance. If they don’t the seat is Alliance’s.
Best bet: DUP and Alliance gain from SDLP and UUP.
Of the seven outgoing councillors, six are standing again (including a DUP who was co-opted). The Alliance candidate is new.
Unionists may be unable to hold onto five seats, but it looks finely balanced.
The SDLP candidate was defeated at the last election after having served 30 years as a councillor but is gamely standing again. He will need a very large personal vote to stay in the race long enough to benefit from Alliance transfers.
It looks difficult for the UUP to hold onto three seats. They would certainly need to balance their candidates extremely tightly. Even then the TUV could be snapping at their heels.
Best bet: TUV and Sinn Feín gain from UUP and SDLP.
The UUP will be without James Twyble who served 30 years as a councillor. Of the other four outgoing councillors three are on the ballot paper again. One of the two SDLP councillors is standing down.
In fact, it is hard to see the SDLP retaining two seats, despite running the former Alliance Assembly candidate for Newry and Armagh. The UUP seat could be at risk if the DUP balance very well.
Alliance would be extremely lucky to snatch the second SDLP seat from Sinn Feín’s grasp
Best bet: Sinn Feín gain from SDLP
After 22 years as a councillor Jim Speers (UUP) has retired. The other four outgoing councillors have all put their names forward again.
The Independent candidate, Paul Berry, was elected in 2001 and 2005 for the DUP. After resigning from the party, he continued to sit as an Independent unionist and has been re-elected at each subsequent council election.
The UUP are unlikely to hold their second seat, and both the TUV and DUP will be competing for the seat Speers vacated. The TUV did not stand here last time so their exact strength is more difficult to estimate. The DUP organisation is likely to be stronger.
Best bet: DUP gain from UUP
Four of the outgoing five councillors are standing again. The Alliance candidate is new.
One of the UUP candidates stood as Independent in 2019.
Unless the TUV does better than this projection suggests, there is no reason to expect a change here.
Best bet: no change
Of the seven outgoing councillors, six (including one co-opted) are standing again. The exception is the DUP. Nevertheless they have a very strong chance of taking the UUP seat.
The SDLP seat could also be in the balance, with Sinn Feín making a strong challenge. Possible transfers from Alliance, and maybe some too from the UUP, could permit the SDLP to just hold on – but that looks a very long shot.
Best bet: DUP and SF to gain 1 each from UUP and SDLP.
Of the six outgoing councillors five are standing again (including one who was co-opted). The exception is the DUP. The Alliance candidate also contested the seat last time, unsuccessfully.
The SDLP looks to be in trouble, with either Sinn Feín or Alliance poised to take the seat. Alliance may have a slight advantage since it does not have to worry about achieving near perfect balancing, and might have more opportunities for transfers.
The possibility of a TUV gain from UUP cannot be ruled out.
Best bet: Alliance gain from SDLP
Michael Hehir is a retired sales and marketing manager. He studied in Northern Ireland but now lives between England and Italy.