Council Elections background: Causeway Coast and Glens…

The council has 40 councillors.

After the last election both the DUP and the SDLP had elected representatives in 6 of the 7 District Electoral Areas (DEA’s), while the UUP and SF succeeded in 5. Alliance were in 2, with the PUP and an Independent each in 1. Unionists still retained a majority of the votes, although both they and nationalists lost ground to ‘others’.

Chart, pie chart Description automatically generated

Chart, pie chart Description automatically generated

I have allocated the Independent elected in the Glens to ‘others’. For more on this please see the DEA section on The Glens.

Seven seats changed hands in 2019, one in each DEA. The TUV’s losses were to the DUP in Benbradagh and in Causeway, and to SF in Ballymoney. The UUP lost in Bann to SF, in Coleraine to Alliance and in Limavady to the DUP. The final change was in the Glens, where Independent Ambrose took the seat from Independent McShane (who did not stand in 2019).

The full make-up of the council in 2014 and 2019 can be seen in the chart below.

The outgoing council had no fewer than five councillors who left their parties since the election to sit as Independents, two from the DUP, two from the SDLP and one from the UUP. More information can be found within the relevant DEA sections below.

The most significant change in vote share was the 6% point drop in TUV support which cost the party all its councillors. The biggest increase was for Alliance. The 3% point drop in the SDLP vote is worth noting because the party retained all its seats – but this does mean that they are more vulnerable this time round.

The largest part of 5 DEA’s are contained in East Londonderry, with the other 2 largely within North Antrim. The total unionist vote at the Assembly election was down 4% points in EL compared to the 2019 council election, but suffered no loss in NA. Within that the DUP performance was poor, -5% and -4% respectively. Taken together with the defections from the party, that is a dismal position from which to go into these elections. The TUV was the main beneficiary, which suggests that they could have realistic hopes of a return to the council chamber. The UUP in North Antrim. One factor to bear in mind when looking at DEA’s within North Antrim is that the UUP was up 4% points, well above their average of -1.7%. If this was a Robin Swann effect, coming out of the pandemic, and not a UUP effect, then estimates for the UUP may be inflated accordingly.

Nationalists were up 2% points in East Londonderry and 1% in North Antrim. SF have realistic hopes of gains on the back of their 6% point improvement in the former and 3% in the latter. The SDLP dropped 3% and 1% respectively in those two constituencies.

Others were up 2% points in EL, and down 1% in NA.

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.

A screenshot of a computer Description automatically generated with low confidence Ballymoney

Of the seven outgoing councillors only 1 DUP is not on the ballot paper this time. One of those councillors is Mervyn Storey who was co-opted onto the council.

The Independent, Cathal McLoughlin, was elected for Sinn Feín in 2019 but expelled from the party last year following his conviction for a sexual offence.

With only six unionist candidates chasing well over 5 quotas there will probably be plenty of unionist transfers available, which would be expected to help Alliance. The issue for Alliance is whether they can stay in the contest long enough to take advantage of them.

The entry into the field of the SDLP, who did not stand last time, means that there will be four nationalists competing for what might be under 2 quotas. This could lead to that rare occurrence at this election – a Sinn Feín loss.

It could be touch and go for the last seat between Alliance and the second Sinn Feín.

Best bet: No change

A screenshot of a computer Description automatically generated with medium confidence Bann

Of the five councillors elected in 2019, only the SDLP’s is not standing again.

Adrian McQuillan (Bann) was elected for the DUP in 2001 and at each election after (except 2014, which he did not contest). Following a falling out with his party he sat as an Independent for the last year. He is standing again as an Independent.

There is no way to estimate how many votes McQuillan will retain as an Independent. In 2019, as a DUP candidate, he secured almost 0.9 of a quota. Given the length of time he has served on the council, I have assumed he attains 0.4 of a quota, largely at the expense of the DUP. If he does better than that he could threaten the second DUP seat.

The SDLP seat is the one most obviously at risk here. Sinn Feín are challenging for it, but it is hard to see where it would get the necessary transfers from. Having Aontú now in the mix as well may not help. If the SDLP is eliminated while Alliance is still in the contest, up to half of SDLP preferences would be added to the Alliance total. Some UUP transfers from an overcrowded unionist field could also find their way to Alliance.

Best bet: Alliance gain from SDLP

A screenshot of a computer Description automatically generated with medium confidence Benbradagh

Four of the outgoing five councillors are contesting the election, while the SDLP member has stood down.

The Independent, Niall Murphy, is a Dungiven-based podcaster who says he does not feel an affinity to any of the current political parties. He won 181 votes when he contested East Londonderry in 2022.

It is astonishing that there is no TUV candidate in what, for them, should have been a target seat. But very small parties have very small resources. It does mean that the DUP appears to have a free ride to the unionist seat.

The SDLP is struggling. Which means that this is one of the very few places where there is a significant possibility of an Aontú gain. The only other contender for the SDLP seat would be Alliance. They have the tantalising prospect of substantial potential transfers from unionists and SDLP – but only if they come up with at least half a quota on the first count. The SDLP might just hold on.

Best bet: No change

A screenshot of a computer Description automatically generated with medium confidence Causeway

There are seven seats available here, and only four of the outgoing councillors are up for re-election: 2 DUP, 1 UUP and an Independent, Angela Mulholland, originally elected for the SDLP.

Mulholland resigned from the party after a year in office citing a desire to represent the whole community. She had 0.5 of a quota when elected for the SDLP and has only served one term as a councillor. Her prospects hang on how effectively she has been able to appeal beyond the nationalist vote base, and whether she can outpoll the SDLP candidate. I have guessed her at 0.3 of a quota.

The other Independent David Alexander stood for NI21 in 2014. In 2019 he gained 0.5 of a quota and was the runner-up.

The TUV will be mounting a strong challenge to the UUP’s second seat, starting from a solid half quota at the last election. It looks likely that all the unionist candidates could have enough votes to keep them in until the final count. Their transfers may have little to do with who takes the final seat.

Since there is probably not a nationalist quota to start with it Sinn Feín are almost certainly out of the running. If they overtake the SDLP about half the SDLP votes will transfer out of nationalism.

This all makes for a strange mix of possibilities. The SDLP’s chances look poor. If they go out either Mulholland, Alexander or the second Alliance would take the seat – even if they start from a low base of half a quota.

Best bet: I wouldn’t put 50p on this one. My 25p would go on Independent to gain from SDLP.

A screenshot of a computer Description automatically generated with medium confidence Coleraine

Of the outgoing six councillors only three will be back on the ballot paper this time, a DUP, a PUP and an Alliance.

William McCandless was elected as a DUP member in 2011 but switched to the UUP just under a year later. Having been elected for the UUP in 2014 and 2019, he switched again in 2020 to Independent but is not standing this time. However, it means that the UUP have been without a councillor for three years.

At about the same time Stephanie Quigley, who was elected for the SDLP in 2014, also left her party to become an Independent. So, the SDLP has also been three years without a councillor.

George Duddy elected in 2011 and at each election since for the DUP will be running as an Independent this time. He achieved 0.84 of a quota under the DUP banner and was returned at each election since 2011. I am guessing he retains between 0.3 and 0.4 of a quota largely at the expense of the DUP.

If the PUP drop votes as I have assumed, based on their general party decline, it could permit Duddy to slip past one of the DUP candidates to take a DUP seat. The DUP have made this more likely by running three candidates instead of consolidating the two seats they held.

To complete the confused picture in the contest for the unionist seats the TUV have entered the race this time. Having no form here their vote share is more uncertain. They took 6.7% of the votes in the East Londonderry constituency at the Assembly election so could perform better than I have estimated.

PBPA took 0.8% of the East Londonderry votes.

If Sinn Feín overtake the SDLP, as seems very possible, it will probably take the seat.

Best bet: Sinn Feín gain from SDLP

A screenshot of a computer Description automatically generated with medium confidence Limavady

All of the outgoing councillors are standing again. One of the DUP’s is a co-optee.

The Independent, James McCorkell, had been elected for the DUP at each election since 2011 but left the party in 2021. He backed the TUV candidate in the following year’s Assembly election but remains an Independent. He achieved 0.7 of a quota under the DUP banner. I am guessing he retains 0.3 of a quota largely at the expense of the DUP. He might be helped by the absence of a TUV candidate this time. Perhaps the TUV regard him as a stronger challenger to the DUP.

The other Independent, Billy Stewart, took 82 votes in the 2022 East Londonderry Assembly election.

The SDLP seat is in danger and it may find it very hard to gain the necessary transfers to save it. Last time only 52% of SF voters transferred to them, and only 59% of Aontú’s. They may find themselves in a battle with Alliance for the last seat. If they exit before Alliance, Alliance will take it with or without unionist transfers.

Best bet: Alliance gain from SDLP

The Glens

Ah The Glens! The Glens! Always ready to confuse any poor commentator foolish enough to try.

Three of the five outgoing councillors are up for re-election. The UUP and Independent have stood down.

The Glens is noted for its unusual voting behaviour, where the individual candidates’ personal following can be as important as (or more important) than their party label. The Independent who won a seat here in 2019 at his second attempt, Ambrose Laverty, ran on a highly localist platform with no constitutional overtones. The pattern of transfers to him in 2014 and from him in 2019 taken together suggest that his vote was cross-community, similar to what one would expect for a Green or Alliance candidate. Accordingly, I have allocated his seat to Other. Although I may have this wrong. (His vote represented 2.5% of the overall total.) After a few months he resigned and Padraig McShane, who was elected in 2011 as SF, and in 2014 as an Independent republican, was co-opted as an Independent in his place.

There are two contests going on this time. First the one between the UUP and DUP – fairly evenly balanced.

The second for who gets the seat vacated by McShane. Unfortunately, there is no history for estimating the Aontú vote. Normally that would suggest that their chances were low. But with Glens politics being so very local it could come down to how well known the candidates are.

Best bet: Sinn Feín to take the Independent seat.

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