Wednesday 19 November 2008

Magherafelt District Council

For this, the third in a series of close examinations of the electoral and demographic situations of some of the 26 District Councils in Northern Ireland, we look at Magherafelt.

Magherafelt district comprises most of south County Derry (though the extreme south is in Cookstown district), and is divided into three District Electoral areas; Magherafelt Town, Sperrin and Moyola.


The graphs below show the breakdown of the percentage of the vote received by nationalists and unionists at each local election since 1985:

As seen elsewhere, There is a clear pattern shown by these two graphs of nationalist advance and unionist retreat. The unionist percentage of the overall vote in the district shows a fall from almost 45% at the start of the generation to around 35% at its end. This fall occurs in all three DEAs, and in two of the three the unionists lost the slight majority that they had in the 1980s.

The flattening out of the unionist decline in 2005, visible above, is due in Magherafelt as elsewhere, to a slight decline in turnout amongst nationalist voters. As the graph below shows, the unionist vote as a percentage of the electorate has been declining continuously since 1985.


What does the demography of the district tell us about its future and its past?

The graph below shows the percentage breakdown by religion (Catholic, Protestant, or none) by age in Magherafelt in 2001 (as recorded in the 2001 census; table s306, for the enthusiasts).

The fluctuations on the right hand side are unimportant, as they are caused by only a small number of people, so a few random deaths could change the balance:

This graph is sobering reading for unionists. It shows that Protestants are increasingly a minority at all ages below the very elderly. In fact, the only ages at which Protestants actually outnumber Catholics in Magherafelt are over 75. The children of those elderly people (aged approximately 45-50) are 60% Catholic, and their grandchildren are 70% Catholic.

The age/religion profile is here shown in absolute numbers:

The fluctuations in the numbers of Protestants in their 20s is interesting; it is probably caused by the presence of British soldiers in Magherafelt army base (now vacated, but still occupied in 2001) . The next census may not record these unusual peaks.

The numbers of Catholics who leave Magherafelt at age 18 is proportionately higher than the number of Protestants. This may reflect a greater commitment to third level education amongst Catholics.

Magheralt has moved from being a relatively evenly balanced area in the past, to one with an increasing Catholic majority. The last 60 years has seen a clear widening of the gap between the proportion of Protestants and Catholics born in Magherafelt each year and remaining there (Catholic birth rates may always have been higher than that apparent from the graph above, but Catholics may have had to emigrate).

The groups on the left of the graphs above are not yet all in the electorate. The census was a snapshot taken in 2001, which means that by now (2008) almost all of those aged 10 and over are likely to be voters, but a large proportion of those at the other end of the graph (that on the right) will have died. This represents the loss to the electorate of a group (the elderly) that is at least 50% Protestant, and the gain of a majority-Catholic group (the teenagers of the graph above, of whom around 70% are Catholic). There is no evidence in the graph that this situation will change very much in the years to come. Thus the proportion of the electorate that will be Catholic (and thus largely nationalist) will continue to increase. The nationalist vote as a percentage of the electorate (see graph above) is likely to continue to rise, while the unionist proportion of the vote continues to fall.

The electorate

In 2001, the population of Magherafelt that was aged 18 or over (i.e. potential voters) was 54923, of which 61.6% were Catholic, and 37.5% were Protestant.These figures are similar to the proportions that voted nationalist (64.1%) and Unionist (34.5%) in the 2001 local elections in the district; it seems, however, that in 2001 at least, nationalists came out to vote in greater numbers than normal.

The close correlation between religion and politics can provide some indication of the outcomes of future elections. An approximately equal number of the elderly will have died in both communities, but around 200 more Catholics than Protestants will have joined Magherafelt's electorate each year. By 2011, the date of the next local elections, this may mean that nationalism may have gained 2000 more new voters than unionism since the 2001 snapshot (though somewhat fewer additional votes, due to the turnout).

The future?

Catholic parents (roughly those in their mid-20s to mid-30s), who make up some 65% of their cohort, are having around 70% of the children. Their Protestant counterparts, some 35% of the cohort, are having barely 30% of the children. The fertility rate amongst Catholics is clearly higher than that amongst Protestants, and if this continues, it will ensure a constantly increasing Catholic proportion of the population.In 2011 Magherafelt District Council will disappear, to be merged with Dungannon and Cookstown in a new Mid-Ulster District:

We previously looked at both Cookstown and Dungannon, so we are now in a position to look at the likely shape of the new Mid Ulster Council, in a following blog post.

No comments: