Wednesday 26 November 2008

Limavady Borough Council

Limavady district takes up much of the middle of County Derry, and is centred on Limavady town. In addition to the town, it contains Bellarena DEA in the north and Benbradagh DEA in the south:


Limavady falls into the group of districts, mostly in the western half of Northern Ireland that have switched, during the last political generation, from having a unionist majority to having a nationalist majority.
At the start of the last political generation (in 1985) unionism held 9 of the 15 seats on the Council, which was reduced to 8 in 1989, 7 in 1993 and 6 in 2001. Nationalism increased from 6 in 1985 to gain control of the Council in 1993. In 2005, when independent Councillor Brian Brown did not stand again, his seat was picked up by Sinn Féin, to give nationalism 9 seats to unionism's 6 – the mirror image of the situation at the start of the period.

The graphs above show a gradual decline in the unionist vote and a corresponding gradual increase in the nationalist vote over the period. The graph below, which shows the proportion of the electorate (i.e. all those on the voting register, not those who actually voted), is more dramatic:

This shows a continued decline, from 35.5% at the start of the period to 28.1% at its end in the unionist vote as a share of the electorate. As elsewhere, nationalism had a good year in 2001, and opened a commanding lead, which slipped somewhat in 2005. Independent Councillor Brian Brown, who had received a significant share of the vote in Limavady Town in 2001, did not stand in 2005, but this made no difference whatsoever to unionism's share of the electorate, as the overall turnout was lower than in 2001.


The changes in Limavady's electoral landscape are matched by changes in its religious demography. From a situation of approximate equality between the two main communities, the balance has shifted to one with a clear Catholic majority:

The fluctuations at the right-hand side of the graph can be ignored, as they are caused by a tiny number of people so a random death or two could give the appearance of a significant imbalance. The two groups appear to part company around age 60, and then again around age 25. Those aged under 25 are round 60% Catholic, and less than 40% Protestant.

In terms of actual numbers, the graph below shows some interesting features:

Firstly, there is an intriguing pike at age 46 amongst Protestants only. There are around 80 more Protestants than the trend would expect, and there is no corresponding Catholic spike at that age (so we can exclude the hypothesis of a long hot summer the year before!). One likely possibility is that the 'additional' 46 year olds are actually police personnel recruited at age 18 or so at the height of the troubles in 1972-73, and who established themselves in Limavady rather than the more dangerous Derry city (where presumably many of them were stationed).

A similar hypothesis can be made for the second visible spike, again only in the numbers of Protestants, at age 24. Limavady hosts a British army base at Ballykelly, and it is likely that these additional 24 year olds are soldiers based in it.

The electorate

In 2001 the electorate (all those aged 18 or over) in Limavady was 54.9% Catholic, and 43.6% Protestant. In the local elections of the same year, nationalist candidates received 53.6% of the vote, and unionist candidates received 42.1% of the vote. The only non-aligned candidate who stood in Limavady in that year, Brian Brown, received 4.2% of the vote, which appears to have been taken fairly evenly from both main blocks.

The close matching of the vote for the two political blocks with the religious proportions of the electorate is striking.

The future

Limavady's brief experience as a nationalist-run area looks to be doomed, for a while at least. In 2011 it will merge with Coleraine, Ballymoney and Moyle districts to form the new Causeway Coast District Council. A future blog wil examine the likely political and religious breakdown of this larger area, but at first glance it would appear to have a unionist majority. The graphs above show that, over time, the electorate of Limavady would have tended towards a 60/40 Catholic/Protestant split (against today's 55/45 split), showing that there would have been scope for nationalism to have achieved a greater share of the vote in the future. They will now have to do this within the larger Causeway Council.

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