Tuesday 8 July 2008

Fermanagh District Council, Enniskillen DEA – by-election

Following the death of Joe Dodds, a district councillor for Enniskillen DEA in Fermanagh (and father of Nigel Dodds, currently Finance Minister in the Executive), the District Council were last night unable to agree to a co-option, and must now proceed to a by-election.

A co-option is basically an agreement by all the other members of the Council that the party of the deceased member can pick his or her replacement, and nobody will stand in their way. Given the fraught state of Northern Irish politics such an agreement would always have been difficult to get. Some observers, however, believed that the circumstances of the vacancy (the death of Joe Dodds) should have allowed his party, the DUP, to co-opt a replacement. But it seems that the UUP disagreed, and so there will be an election.

The timetable for the by-election in Enniskillen is slightly flexible, within legal limits set out in the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962:

  • Last night the council failed to choose a person to fill the "casual vacancy", and so the clerk of the council must, within 7 days of the meeting, notify the Chief Electoral Officer of this; i.e. by 14 July.
  • Publication of the notice of election must take place within 21 days from the date on which the "casual vacancy" is deemed to have occurred; i.e. by 28 July at the latest.
  • Delivery of nomination papers takes place "on two consecutive days, the second of which shall not be earlier than the 4th day, nor later than the 7th day after the day of publication of the notice of election"; i.e. by 4 August at the latest.
  • And polling must take place on a day "which shall not be earlier than the 18th nor later than the 21st day after the last day for delivery of nomination papers", i.e. between 22 and 25 August, if all other steps occur at their latest date.

These are the maximum periods. The timetable can be shortened if the council notifies the Chief Electoral Officer immediately, or if the notice of election is published in less than 21 days from notification.

As this blog previously pointed out, although Enniskillen has slightly more unionists than nationalists (48.6% to 46.7%), the election will be extremely interesting, and may lead to surprises.

Issues that will play a part include:

  • The opinion of local unionists to the DUP's agreement to share power with Sinn Féin.
  • The vote that Traditional Unionist Voice will receive, if it stands.
  • Who will stand for the various parties (the DUP's large share of the vote in 2005 was thanks largely to Arlene Foster, who cannot stand again)
  • Whether there will be a split in the unionist vote sufficient to result in Sinn Féin winning the seat.
  • Whether the changing demographics of Enniskillen will lead to a nationalist majority in the DEA (no guarantee of the seat, of course - that would depend upon the transfers).
  • Whether Sinn Féin will suffer from the recent resignation of Bernice Swift.
  • Whether the SDLP will recover from its recent decline to pose a credible threat to Sinn Féin for the nationalist vote.

This blog will follow this election with interest.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe the UUP precipitated this election for one reason only- to embarrass the DUP.
The DUP vote will decline, though probably not as dramatically as in
Dromore. The TUV ( if they have a candidate ) will not do as well as in Dromore. However, the UUP are mistaken if they believe a unionist will win this election. It is only because of poor nationalist voter turnout in the past in the Enniskillen DEA that the 2005 election resulted in a narrow nationalist plurality. This low nationlaist voter turnout does not occur anywhere else in the Fermanagh Westminster District. Perhaps you could provide some insight on this. The demographics are as follows based on the voting age population according to the 2001 census.
Enniskillen DEA
All persons: 13581
Catholic: 7259
%Catholic 53.45
July 2008 Electorate 12591
%Registered 92.71
What is puzzling is that the voter registration rate is only 76% in the Devenish ward (85% Catholic) and only 83% in the Erne ward ( 73%
Catholic ). In the 2005 election the nationalist vote was 51%-assuming that most of the Socialist vote transferred to Sinn Fein or the SDLP. However, taking into account that some of those in the census listed their religion as None/Other and would vote nationalist and the growth in the nationalist voting age electorate between 2001 and 2005, the nationalist electorate was approximately 55% in 2005. This indicates that the nationalist turnout was much lower ( ie: 55% nationalist versus 65% unionist ) in 2005. If the nationalist voter turnout equals the unionist turnout in this election it will be an easy nationlist win. Of course, Sinn Fein and the SDLP can help matters by registering all those unregistered nationalist voters.