Background to Council Elections: Newry Mourne and Down…

The council has 41 members.

South Down, former bastion of the SDLP, once second in importance only to Derry, has experienced sever erosion by Sinn Féin. How much further this may go will be the focus of most of the attention paid to the Newry Mourne and Down election by those outside the council area.

The SDLP won seats in all seven of the council District Electoral Areas (DEA’s) in 2019, Sinn Féin in 6, and the UUP in 4. Alliance and the DUP were both successful in 2. Independents were returned in 4 DEA’s.

Both nationalists and unionists have lost share to ‘others’.

One of those Independents, Jarleth Tinnelly, was first elected in Crotlieve in 2014. He campaigns on purely local issues and I am not aware of him having made any statement with constitutional implications. Tinnelly’s votes were not transferred in either 2019 or 2014. He stood unsuccessfully in 2011, and on that occasion his votes transferred 4% to the UUP with 51% shared between the SDLP and SF in what is a predominantly nationalist DEA. The fact that nearly half of his voters did not transfer to either the unionist or nationalist candidates suggests an extremely high level of personal votes which makes it unwise to ascribe them to any of the three designations. He is standing again at this election.

The votes of two other Independents, including Mark Gibbons elected for Crotlieve, were ascribed to nationalists. Those for Mournes Independent, Henry Reilly, have been included with unionists, and the Downpatrick Independent, Cadogan Enwright, with ‘others’. The rational can be found under the relevant DEA section.

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

For the first time Sinn Fein drew ahead of the SDLP in seat numbers. In all five seats changed hands. The SDLP lost 2 to SF, one in Slieve Gullion and the other in The Mournes. It lost a third in Crotlieve to Independent Gibbons. The DUP lost out in Slieve Croob to the UUP. The final change was also in The Mournes – where it was a case of “the more things change the more they stay the same”. In winning election as an Independent Henry Reilly gained the seat from UKIP which had previously been held by Henry Reilly.

The largest change in party vote share was the 7% point fall in the SDLP share. Interestingly Sinn Feín did not profit at all from this, declining itself by 1%. In other words, Sinn Féin candidates prospered not because the party had done well, but because the other guy or gal did so much worse.

Alliance will have been very disappointed that a 5% point increase in votes brought them no additional seats, but it does put them much closer to making gains if they achieve even a small improvement on their 2019 result.

Four councillors changed party during the course of the four-year term, all of whom are standing again.

The Independent Cadogan Enwright (Downpatrick) joined the Alliance party for which he will contest the forthcoming election.

Alan Lewis (Slieve Croob), who was elected at the last election for the UUP, switched to the DUP.

Harold McKee (The Mournes) who was elected in 2011 and 2014 for the UUP switched to the TUV last year.

Henry Reilly (The Mournes), whose political peregrinations are described in the relevant DEA section, switched from Independent to DUP.

Four of the DEA’s are located in the South Down constituency, 2 are in Newry & Armagh, and 1 in Strangford. By the time of the 2022 Assembly election the unionist vote share had fallen back from its 2019 council level by 3% in the first two of those constituencies. Only in Stranford had it held even. Nationalist dropped by 1% in South Down and 2% in Strangford. Only N&A recorded an increase of 1%. The picture was far brighter for ‘others’, up 4% in SD, 1 % in N&A and 2% in Strangford.

Within nationalism there was a big movement from SDLP, down in all three constituencies, 8% in SD, 7% in N&A and 3% in Strangford. On those figures they would be in for a mauling from Sinn Feín, up in the same constituencies by 14%, 7% and 1%.

The UUP was the loser within unionism, down 7% in SD, 7% in N&A and 1% in Strangford, while the TUV was up 6%, 9% and 10% respectively.

Alliance were up 5% in SD, 1% in N&A and 6% in Strangford and should be looking at gains if they hold or improve on those figures.

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.

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Description automatically generated with low confidence Crotlieve

All six outgoing councillors are standing again.

Independent Mark Gibbons unsuccessfully contested the DEA as a Sinn Féin candidate in 2014.

Jim Boylan stood unsuccessfully at the last election. Only 1% of his transfers went to the UUP candidate, while 79% went to nationalist parties and Independent Gibbons. 14% went to Independent Tinnelly.

Finbarr Lambe stood before as an Independent here in 2014, taking 258 votes. Although his transfers were mixed together with those of a DUP candidate, analysis suggests that only about 1% of his went to the UUP candidate, around 55% to nationalist parties and about 40% to Independent Tinnelly.

The Greens won 0.7% of the vote in the South Down Assembly election.

Alliance is likely to outlast the two unionists and receive a large part of their transfers. A smaller portion may well also go to the SDLP. Nevertheless, the SDLP seems most unlikely to have enough votes to retain two seats. With three candidates it will not even consolidate its total vote, with some drifting off in transfers to other candidates. This will probably be enough to elect Alliance, if it has not already passed the quota mark.

Of course the estimate is predicated on the assumption that Independents who were successfully elected retain their vote. (And yes, Boylan wasn’t elected but I have also assumed that he retains his vote. That is because over half of his transfers went to Independents who were elected.) If the Independents falter, then Sinn Feín might have a chance of taking one of their seats. But they have reduced their chances of doing so by running four candidates.

I’ve tried to figure the SDLP and SF strategy of running too many candidates here, but I am at a loss. It could boil down to nothing more significant than not wanting to be seen to run one fewer than last time.

Best bet: Alliance gain from SDLP

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Description automatically generated with medium confidence Downpatrick

There are five outgoing councillors. Two of the three SDLP are not standing again.

One of these is Dermot Curran who served as a councillor for the last 50 years. Whatever your political persuasion it is worth recognising a half century of community service.

Cadogan Enwright, who was first elected as a Green councillor in 2011 but who retained his seat in 2014 and 2019 as an Independent will be contesting this election for the Alliance. If he retains the seat it will count as an Alliance gain from Independent.

Éamonn Mac Con Midhe, standing as an Independent, was previously elected as a Sinn Feín councillor in 2001 until his defeat in 2014. I have no way of estimating his vote – the 0.3 I have used is a pure guess. It seems reasonable to assume that whatever vote he gets will largely come from Sinn Feín, and that it will return to them in transfers if he is eliminated.

Sinn Feín can have reasonable expectations of taking the second SDLP seat, but I see no reason for running three candidates.

Best bet: Sinn Feín gain from SDLP and Alliance gain from Independent.

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Description automatically generated with low confidence Newry

One SDLP and one SF councillor elected in 2019 are standing again. They are joined by two outgoing co-opted SF members. One SDLP and the Independent Gavin Malone are standing down.

Malone was elected on the first count last time with a whopping 1.6 of a quota. His voters transferred 35% Sinn Feín, 29% SDLP, 20% Alliance and 1% UUP. 14% did not transfer.

Aontú took 3% of the nationalist vote in Newry & Armagh in the Assembly election, which is equivalent to nearly 0.2 of a quota in this DEA. The Workers Party received 0.3% of the vote.

Maria Krupska, who is standing as an Independent, was secretary to the organisation Hope For Ukraine which organised and transported aid to refugees from Ukraine. I have no means of estimating her vote.

There will be no unionist candidate this time. This may cause some unionists not to vote. Last time UUP transfers split fairly evenly between the SDLP and Alliance.

Sinn Feín, who should profit most from Malone’s absence, look set to take a fourth seat. The race for the final seat would then be between the second SDLP and Alliance. Alliance will start well ahead, and it is doubtful that the SDLP will attract enough transfers to overtake.

Best bet: Sinn Feín and Alliance gain one each from SDLP and Independent.

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Description automatically generated with low confidence Rowallane

All seven outgoing councillors have put their names forward again, including two co-opted Sinn Feín members.

Once again there is no TUV candidate in a DEA where they might have been in with a chance.

The estimate seems to point to no change here. However, it would only take the actual results to be marginally different before two seats could change hands. This is a reminder that the estimates must be interpreted with a level of variability in mind.

Take another 0.1 of a quota off the SDLP and add it to Sinn Feín and you turn a fairly safe SDLP seat into a marginal. Add it instead to Alliance and the SDLP seat looks safe since it will receive plenty of SF transfers.

Now look at the UUP. They won a seat and also came runner-up last time on 1.2 quotas. That’s marginally fluky. But instead of defending the one seat they hold, they have run two again. Even though their Assembly result and recent polling give them no grounds for optimism. This exposes them to unnecessary risk. Remember that not all voters stick to their first-choice party when they transfer. In the last council elections on average 27% of UUP first preference voters did not transfer to another UUP candidate. The highest non-transfer rate was 42%. They could lose up to 0.2 of a quota when/if their second candidate is excluded. This could let the second Alliance candidate in ahead of them.

Best bet: No change.

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Description automatically generated with medium confidence Slieve Croob

Four of the five outgoing councillors, including a co-opted Alliance, are standing again. The exception is a Sinn Feín.

The Green is the only new party entrant on the ballot paper. Last year they took 0.7% in the Assembly election in South Down.

The DUP look likely to take the UUP seat, while the SDLP looks vulnerable to Sinn Fein.

Best bet: DUP and Sinn Feín gain 1 each from UUP and SDLP.

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Description automatically generated with low confidence Slieve Gullion

All seven councillors are up for re-election, including two Sinn Feín co-optees.

Aontú won 2.0% of the vote in Newry & Armagh at the last Assembly election. The Greens took 0.5%.

This one could be complicated. Unionists could come in under a quota. Also, the DUP could overtake the UUP. In which case there could be some leakage in transfers from an excluded UUP to Alliance and the SDLP. That could leave the DUP sitting on around 0.8 of a quota. But that only happens if Alliance are not excluded, as they could be, before the UUP. If Alliance were excluded the DUP would probably receive more of the UUP transfers and be in a safer position.

The SDLP should come in on a quota or a bit above. But it has divided that between two candidates with the inevitable consequence that some of its votes will be lost when/if the lower candidate is excluded. In the last council elections nearly a quarter of SDLP first preference voters did not transfer to another SDLP candidate. And in one case it was 36%. The consequence is that once its leading candidate is elected it is likely to have few if any transfers to make.

Sinn Feín can expect to receive only half of any SDLP transfers. If very well balanced their bottom candidate would have about 0.8 of a quota, but that would be quite a feat with six candidates. If the sixth SF candidate is above the DUP, then SF take the UUP seat. If it is below Alliance, then the final seat will go either to the DUP or Alliance.

Best bet: DUP gain from UUP.

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Description automatically generated with low confidence The Mournes

All seven outgoing councillors are standing again, apart from one Sinn Feín.

Henry Reilly was originally elected as a UUP candidate in 1989 and at the each of the next three elections, by 2011 he was being elected for UKIP and again in 2014, between then and the following election he passed through a brief TUV phase during which he stood for that party at the 2016 Assembly election, but was an Independent for the 2019 election. He finished this term in the DUP, for whom he is standing this time. None of these progressions has ever concerned his voters much – who continued to elect him above or very close to a full quota.

It looks like the three Sinn Feín candidates will be elected above quota. Based on SF transfers in South Down last year, between 50% and 60% of their transfers will go to the SDLP, with probably a quarter to Alliance.

Both of the DUP candidates should be safe. If the party has any transfers to give, the last council elections would suggest that significantly more of them would go to the UUP than to the TUV. But since then, the growth in the TUV vote has brought in more former DUP supporters who might be inclined to transfer to their old party. Since the TUV did not stand here in 2019 there is no history to support the estimate other than the South Down Assembly vote. It seems likely that it will be between the TUV and the UUP candidate for elimination.

A TUV elimination would see most transfers to the UUP, probably securing them the seat and sending some transfers Alliance’s way, probably taking them home and leaving the SDLP out in the cold.

A UUP elimination could see a third, or more, of their vote transferring to Alliance and SDLP. That would probably leave the TUV short, setting up a three way struggle between TUV, Alliance and the SDLP for the final two seats.

Best bet: Alliance gain from SDLP, and DUP gain from Independent.

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