Wednesday 17 December 2008

Nigel Dodds – between a rock and a hard place

There has been some speculation recently that Nigel Dodds may be the DUP's ritual sacrifice to the gods in Strasbourg next year. This blog believes that such a move – standing Dodds in the European Parliament elections on 4 June 2009 to try to outgun Jim Allister – is a sign of the DUP's weakness and desperation.

However, for Dodds the move may simply be the better of two bad choices. It is widely rumoured that Dodds is ambitious and covets the leadership of the DUP when Peter Robinson retires. However, to be leader of the DUP, Dodds needs to be an MP, and not an MEP.

Dodds is, of course, currently the MP for North Belfast, a seat which he won from the bumbling UUP incumbent in 2001. But North Belfast is not a particularly safe seat for unionism. If Dodds stays in local politics he could lose his seat, if not at the next election, then at the one that follows it – i.e. just at the time when he would see himself replacing Robinson! If he goes to Europe, Dodds may not have a seat to return to – in the meantime, without his vote-pulling name, the seat may already have been lost to unionism. His own wife, Diane Dodds is being suggested (by the same rumours that suggest that Nigel Dodds may be headed for Strasbourg) as an interim replacement, to hold the seat for him until he returns. But this is a risky strategy for the DUP, as she has a much lower profile than he does.

The two blocks have been drawing closer in North Belfast during the past generation. The graph below shows their relative strengths since 1983:

In the most recent election, for the Assembly in 2007, the combined unionist vote dipped below 50% for the first time (though some of the votes received by independents would revert to unionist candidates in a straight head-to-head contest for the Westminster seat). The nationalist vote has increased greatly in North Belfast over the last 25 years, though seems to be fairly flat since 2001. That year (2001) was, as we have previously seen in many local council areas, an exceptionally good year for the nationalist vote, when it exceeded its trend almost everywhere.

This is also visible if we look at the votes cast for the two blocks as a percentage of the whole electorate. The narrowing gap is clear, and if (a big 'if') nationalism is sufficiently motivated to repeat its efforts of 2001, it has shown that it already has the possibility to achieve a higher proportion of the electorate than unionism has achieved in the last two elections:

A very important part of the problem facing Dodds is that most of his votes come from Protestants, and the Protestant population tends to be older than the Catholic population (who generally vote nationalist). Amongst the oldest age groups Protestants outnumber Catholics by 75% to 25% - this drops quite quickly until parity is reached between the two groups at around age 45 (the graph below shows the proportions at the time of the 2001 census – the graph needs to be shifted towards the right by seven years to bring it closer to the 2008 situation):

In addition to Dodds reliance on elderly Protestant voters to maintain his slim majority, North Belfast has a population that is older than the Northern Irish average, and so his voters are actually dying more rapidly than those of other constituencies. The graph below shows the age structure in North Belfast (the percentage of the population at each age) and the age structure of Northern Ireland as a whole:

The red line, representing North Belfast, exceeds the Northern Irish average at all ages over 60 (in 2001; i.e. 67 today). A large proportion of that group is going to be dead by the time of the next election, cutting Dodds majority to a very small one … if he has one at all! And the effect of this will continue for another 10 years, as average life expectancy is over 80 years for those people who make it as far as 67. So his vote will continue to shrink, while the nationalist vote will continue to rise – it loses fewer to death, while gaining more new voters (see the graph above, which shows that the teenagers in North Belfast in 2001 are majority Catholic).

Finally, to rub some more salt into Dodds wounds, the next election will be fought with slightly modified constituency boundaries. Nicholas Whyte has calculated that "this makes the new constituency 0.2% more Catholic, and 0.3% less Protestant than the old. The electoral effects will be minimal". Minimal, perhaps, but Dodds is going to need every single vote!

So poor Nigel Dodds is between a rock and a hard place. If he goes to Strasbourg then he may have trouble returning, but if he doesn't go he may suffer the embarrassment of losing his seat before he achieves his political dreams.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Omagh District Council

This is another one of those 'town-with-hinterland' council areas of which we have already seen several (Cookstown, Fermanagh, Ballymoney, Strabane, and so on). The District Council area is divided into three DEAs; Omagh Town in the middle, West Tyrone to its west, and Mid Tyrone to its east.


Although it is hard to believe it now, in the past Omagh was unionist controlled. Only in 1981 did nationalists take 50% of the seats on the council, and subsequently more. Sinn Féin only took its first seats (6) in 1985 – in 2005 they took 10 seats, one short of a majority on the council (which has a total of 21 seats).

During the last political generation (1985-2005) the nationalist proportion of the vote has increased from 57% to 67%, with one year of reverse in 1993 when both the Labourite Johnny McLaughlin and the Alliance Party did well in Omagh town.

Unionism, however, has had a difficult time throughout the period, falling from 36% at the start to below 30% at the end. The apparent collapse of the unionist vote in Omagh Town in 2001 is perceptual rather than real – their actual vote increased (1997: 2413 votes; 2001: 2424 votes), but the enormous increase in the nationalist vote (1997: 3051; 2001: 4774) meant that proportionately the unionist vote dropped considerably. Of course, this merely shows that there were a large number of potential nationalist voters who had not voted before 2001, for reasons unknown.

When the votes of the two blocks are viewed as percentages of the whole electorate (i.e. all of those eligible to vote) the decline in unionism is clear:

From receiving the votes of 27,4% of the electorate in 1985, unionism declined continuously and at the end of the period received votes from only 21,8% of those eligible to vote. Nationalism had a more volatile time, initially declining before the cease-fire, but then bouncing back strongly. In 2001 the coincidence of Westminster elections with the local elections stimulated a high turn-out amongst nationalists and they received the votes of 53% of Omagh's eligible voters. Unionism enjoyed no such bounce, perhaps showing that it was already operating at maximum capacity and had no reserve voters.


The religious breakdown in Omagh has been changing slowly throughout the past 90 years (at least). Catholics are a majority at all ages, but have increased that majority over time. Amongst the very old, around 60% were Catholic and 40% Protestant in 2001 (the latest census), but amongst the young over 70% are Catholic and around 25% are Protestant.

The numbers of people at each age tell the same story, but show an astonishing loss to the Catholic population between ages 17 and 19. Almost 300 young Catholics leave the area between those ages, either to university or to seek jobs elsewhere. Below age 17 the numbers of Catholics starts to drop as family sizes shrink, but they are still comfortably superior to the numbers of Protestants.

Only time will tell whether the loss of young Catholics continues at the same rate. If not, then the large numbers of teenagers behind the spike in the graph above will have entered the electorate by the time of the next local election in 2011, increasing its Catholic proportion, and decreasing even further its Protestant proportion.

The electorate

The graphs above show quite clearly that the electorate (i.e. all those aged 18 and above) had a Catholic majority in 2001, and that this majority was not in any danger from the generation to come (those under 18 in the graphs above). The precise breakdown of the electorate in 2001 was 67.5% Catholic, and 31.4% Protestant. This compares to the actual votes cast in the 2001 local elections when nationalist candidates received 66.4% of the vote, and unionist candidates received 29.1%. The Alliance Party did not stand in Omagh in 2001, and independent candidates (mostly the indefatigable socialist Mr McLaughlin) received 3.7% of the vote.

The future

In 2011 Omagh district will merge with Fermanagh to become the new Fermanagh and Omagh District Council. This new district will have a comfortable nationalist majority, based on the results from the 2005 local elections: 61% nationalist to 37% unionist (Sinn Féin alone should get more votes than all unionists combined). These figures may, of course be different in 2011, as the launch of the new Councils will surely stimulate a high turnout, new candidates, and perhaps the return to the area of the Alliance Party. Nonetheless, the new area should have a nationalist council.

Monday 15 December 2008

Dodds, the DUP, and desperation

With every passing day the European Parliament election gets closer. The Electoral Office have just published the timetable , which tells us that the election will be on Thursday 4 June 2009, and that candidates must be nominated by 7 May at the latest.

For Sinn Féin and the 'New Force', the selection is easy – the sitting MEPs Bairbre de Brún and Jim Nicholson will stand again. But for the DUP the issue is a difficult one. Firstly because the MEP elected for the party in 2004 – Jim Allister – deserted them and has become one of their bitterest opponents, and secondly because the DUP simply has no high-profile member who wants to be sent to exile in Strasbourg.

For almost two years Jim Allister has been sniping at the DUP, and for all of that time the DUP has been trying to outwit, outgun or outrun him. But they haven't succeeded. He scared them and embarrassed them at the Dromore by-election in February 2008, and since then there have not been enough other contests for the DUP to either crush him or gauge his real strength. So they are in the awkward position now of having to contest a seat that was theirs, against a former member who has become a nemesis, without any eager candidates of their own!

Allister may have little chance of holding his seat, but the DUP cannot know this, and if they put up a little-known candidate who fails then they will suffer a political humiliation of previously unseen proportions.

In desperation, therefore, the DUP are now flying the kite of a Nigel Dodds candidacy. Of course, like all flown kites, this one is strictly denied – "a DUP spokesman said they could not comment on possible candidates for the European election".

The context for such a 'big beast' to step up to the plate is, of course, the proposals to allow a nomination, rather than a by-election, for a vacant European Parliament seat. The proposal (reported by the BBC, though entirely absent from the web sites of the Electoral Office, Electoral Commission, or the Northern Ireland Office, who retain control of electoral law) would allow Dodds to stand, get elected, and then immediately resign his seat in favour of a non-entity. Such a move would, yet again, show the basic contempt with which the DUP treat the electorate.

Ordinarily, an MP who is elected to the European Parliament must resign his Westminster seat, but this happens after the European election – if he resigns his European seat immediately upon being elected, then presumably the necessity to resign his Westminster seat is void. The Irish News speculated that "if he does stand for Europe, his wife Diane Dodds – who lost her West Belfast assembly seat at the last assembly elections – could be selected to contest his North Belfast constituency in his absence". But if he never actually resigned then this would not be necessary.

A trick of this sort would demonstrate three things to the voters of Northern Ireland:

1. That the DUP is genuinely worried by Jim Allister and his party (the TUV). This is a high-risk admission for a party that considers itself to be the dominant voice of unionism, and dismisses the TUV as a pathetic one-man band,

2. That the DUP had no adequate candidate for the European Parliament other than its deputy leader – an MLA and the Minister of Finance. The clear implication is that any other candidate – another MLA, an ambitious councillor, even a new face, would have been beaten. This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the party's belief in the calibre of its own members (but not unique, as the sad history of Thomas Hogg has shown us)

3. That the DUP holds the European Parliament in contempt. To stand for a parliament in the full knowledge that you have no real intention of participating in it, is to tell your voters that you consider that parliament to be irrelevant, or that you are hostile to it. If your voters agree with you (as Sinn Féin's voters do in respect of Westminster) then there is no problem, but if they do not, then you will suffer at the next election. In the case of the DUP this could prove to be a short-term solution to a problem that leads to a longer-term headache.

Other issues that this emergency nomination could highlight include the DUP's increasingly precarious hold on North Belfast. The constituency has been approaching parity between nationalists and unionists for some time, and in the absence of a big name like Dodds there is no guarantee that the DUP would hold it at the next general election (due in 2009 or 2010). Just as importantly, Dodds clearly does not want to go to Strasbourg – he wants to stay in Westminster and, in time, replace Robinson as leader of the DUP. A spell in exile may hobble his career. That he would even consider such a move indicates that he has received some guarantees about his future.

This is a high stakes gamble by the DUP, and one that could back-fire in several different ways. At the very least, it shows the DUP to be weaker than it would like to be seen, and more desperate. Even if they win the seat, these impressions will last. If they lose the seat to Allister, they will suffer a serious and humiliating set-back. If they combat Allister too robustly, and split the unionist vote sufficiently, nationalism might win the third seat, with hugely negative implications for unionism. It is hard to see how the DUP could play this hand without losing something.

Belfast Giants? – don't fall for it!

The Sunday Business Post has been sold the line that the "Belfast Giants’ success is ‘crucial for peace’"

It quotes Belfast Giants owner Jim Gillespie as saying that "it is "essential" that cross-community sports survive to ensure lasting peace in the North".

Now who, bar a real Grinch, would have a bad word to say about something as wholesome as Ice Hockey?

Well, this blog, for one, and this is why.

The Belfast Giants are not 'just' an ice hockey team – they are a specifically British ice-hockey team. They play in a league of ten teams: Sheffield, Coventry, Nottingham, Belfast, Manchester, Cardiff, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Hull and Basingstoke, which are all, bar Belfast, in Britain. The promotion of ice-hockey as a 'non-sectarian' alternative to GAA or soccer is nothing more than an attempt to tie young people into a completely Britain-centred sporting project, and to turn their eyes and their attention towards Britain. It is, in a very clear way, a cultural weapon designed to increase the identification of young people with Britain, and thus away from Ireland.

So when Jim Gillespie says that 'it is essential that cross-community sports survive to ensure lasting peace in the North', he means that he sees 'lasting peace' as the integration of Northern Ireland into Britain. He is not promoting north-south sporting integration – on the contrary, where it exists he ignores it: "If Belfast loses ice hockey," he is quoted as saying, "we’re in trouble. It’ll go back to having nowhere to mix. This was a part of the peace process that was virtually forgotten about; kids getting together realising they’re not different from one another in reality. It’s essential that the games continue, to move the North into the real world."

"Nowhere to mix"? Has he not heard of rugby? Cricket? Hockey? Athletics? Etc, etc, etc. All integrated all-Ireland sports, in all of which the 'kids can (and do) get together'. Is his blindness deliberate? Does he see no merit in all-Ireland mixing? Could it be that, to him, the "real world" is Britain, and the rest of Ireland is unreal?

Jim Gillespie's attitude is far from neutral. He is, wittingly or unwittingly, promoting a unionist agenda. That he claims to be doing so for 'well-meaning' reasons is not credible. He is an intelligent man who knows what he is doing. This is simply another example of unionism in its broadest sense, including the British authorities, using a Catholic from Northern Ireland to promote unionism on the sly. It can be seen more and more in different fields - Eoghan Quigg in the X Factor was another recent example - everyone, even unionist politicians, were supposed to support him - but only, of course, because he was in a British talent show. If he had been a finalist in an Irish talent show the silence, from the media and unionist politicians, would have been deafening.

There are, no doubt, many other examples of this silent campaign being waged by unionism and its friends in the media. Nationalists need to be aware of the manipulation, in order better to resist it and to identify the people behind it.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Coleraine Borough Council

Taking in the north-eastern part of County Derry, as well as a sliver of County Antrim from Portrush to Portballintrae, Coleraine district includes the large town of Coleraine and the main campus of the University of Ulster.


A single series cannot be followed for Coleraine for the political generation from 1985-2005, because the boundaries within the district were changed between the 1989 elections and the 1993 elections. A new DEA (East) was added from 1993 onwards, and the other DEAs were altered to make room for it. The graphs below show the total votes for the entire period, and the votes per DEA from 1993 onwards.

As can be seen, the only DEA with any significant representation of nationalists is Bann, which includes the south-western, more rural, part of the district, including the towns of Garvagh and Kilrea. There was a small nationalist presence in the old Coleraine Town DEA, which increased slightly when the town was included in the Central DEA. The Skerries DEA had a nationalist presence in its old boundaries (up to 1989), but in 1993 no nationalist candidate stood in the new Skerries DEA (the old nationalist vote went straight to the Alliance Party). Subsequently, though, nationalists have stood and re-claimed some 16-18% of the vote here.

Allowing for the unexplained absence from The Skerries in 1993, the nationalist vote in Coleraine has been gradually increasing over the period, though it still barely tops 20%. The Unionist vote is quite stable at around 70%. The biggest loser in this district is the Alliance Party, whose vote has more than halved since 1993.


As the electoral results would imply, Coleraine is a predominantly Protestant area. Amongst old people the proportion that is Protestant exceeds 80%, though this drops gradually to around 70% of those aged 30 to 50, and to 60% of the children.

Around ages 18 to 24 the effect of the University of Ulster can be seen. Where other districts have a trough in their graphs, representing the young people who leave to go to university, Coleraine, like Belfast, has a peak, representing the students who come to the area. This effect is seen more clearly below, in the graph showing the actual numbers.

For Coleraine, the trough comes after the students finish their degrees and leave to work where the jobs are. A smaller town like Coleraine cannot, of course, offer jobs for all of the graduates.

The electorate

In 2001 the electorate of Coleraine (i.e. all those aged 18 and over) was 26.6% Catholic, and 71.2% Protestant. The proportion of the votes received by the corresponding political blocks in th 2001 local elections were: nationalist 19.7%, and unionist 66.2%. A cluster of independents, and the Alliance Party, took the balance of the vote.
There are several possible explanations for the lower-than-expected nationalist vote: either Coleraine nationalists are different to those elsewhere and vote more for independents, or a portion did not actually vote in Coleraine. The latter possibility is more likely – the Catholic students who were counted by the census in Coleraine may have returned home to vote a month later. This theory is supported by the evidence of the University of Ulster campus at Jordanstown in Newtownabbey Borough. Here, even though there are considerable numbers of Catholic students, there have been no nationalist candidates at all during the period 1985 to 2005, and thus a recorded nationalist vote of zero.

The future

In 2011 Coleraine Borough will no longer exist. It will form part, with Limavady, Ballymoney and Moyle, of the new Causeway Coast district. Coleraine will be the largest part of the new council, accounting for around 40% of the voters in the new area. On the basis of the 2005 district council elections this new district will be around 60% unionist and 36% nationalist. The actual outcome in 2011 will probably be different, as the new councils will attract a lot of interest from both voters and candidates, which may lead to a higher turnout and an increase in independent candidates.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

The 2007 Annual Report of the Registrar General

Today NISRA published the 86th Annual Report of the Registrar General, which provides a wealth of information on the demographic make-up of Northern Ireland in 2007.

Not all of the information is entirely new. Information on Births in 2007 was published in March 2008; information on Deaths in 2007 was published in April 2008, and information on Marriages, Divorces and Civil Partnerships was published in June 2008. The Annual Report is, therefore, more of a compilation than a new source of information, though it does present the information in more depth and with more commentary. It is well worth a read.

Nonetheless, it is useful to use today's publication to reiterate a number of points.

Firstly, concerning births; while the religion of the parents of the babies is not given, it is possible to estimate the community of many of them from the District Council area in which the birth was recorded. Thus, for example, we can assume that most births in Derry or Newry and Mourne are to Catholic parents, while most of those in Carrickfergus or North Down are to Protestant parents. What this, admittedly rough, estimate shows us is that the birth rate remains higher in Catholic areas than in Protestant areas.

Appendix 2 of the Annual Report shows, for example, that the birth rates in majority Catholic areas are generally higher than those in majority Protestant areas. The table below shows the birth rate in the 26 District Council areas sorted according to the proportion of their 'child-bearing cohort' (i.e. all those aged 20 to 39) that is Catholic. It should be noted, however, that the figures used for the religious breakdown of the district populations are those of the 2001 census, while the birth rates are those of 2007. So while we are not exactly comparing apples and oranges, we are perhaps comparing Golden Delicious with Cox’s Orange. The loss of accuracy is probably not great, however.

Eleven of the districts have a Catholic majority in the age group 20-39, and in seven of these the birth rate exceeds the Northern Irish average (13.9 live births per thousand in the population). Of the 12 areas with a majority-Protestant child-bearing cohort, only 3 had birth rates that exceeded the average. All three were in outer-Belfast commuter areas, where young families are likely to set up home. Two of the three areas with religiously balanced child-bearing cohorts had birth rates that exceeded the average:

The average birth rate in the 11 Catholic-majority areas in the table above is 14.5, while the average of the 12 Protestant-majority areas is 13.1. The three balanced areas (including, of course, the biggest by far, Belfast) had an average birth rate of 14.4. If the figure for the Catholic-majority can be used as a proxy for the 'Catholic birth rate', then it is likely that many of the births in these three balanced areas were actually Catholic births.

Looked at in this way, though, the figures are misleading. The birth rate is the number of live births per 1000 in the whole population. Thus, it compares births in areas with a high proportion of old people with areas with a high population of young adults. This is not a valid comparison, as it ‘rewards’ areas like Dungannon for having relatively few old people compared with North Down, for example.

If the figures for live births are shown as a proportion of the child-bearing population, aged 20-39, a completely different picture emerges. Dungannon, with its record birth rate of 16.1 per thousand of the population drops to the third lowest – a birth rate of 37.0 per thousand of those aged 20-39. The same table as shown above, now looks like this:

The three areas with the lowest number of births per thousand aged 20-39 are all nationalist: Magherafelt, Cookstown and Dungannon. It seems that Mid Ulster is dying out! However, of the eleven majority-nationalist areas, seven have birth rates above the average according to this method of calculation. Of the 12 Protestant-majority areas, six are above average – but of the eight most-Protestant areas only two are above average, while fully 5 of the eight most-Catholic areas are above average.

Secondly, the proportion of marriages that take place in Catholic churches remains stable, while the proportions that take place in Protestant churches is tumbling. The proportion of religious marriages that are in Catholic churches has been over 50% for several years now, and appears to be increasing. Of course the real winner in the marriage statistics is the registry office, and we know nothing much about the religions of the people concerned. [As a small titbit of information, in 1887 in the six counties, the proportion of marriages celebrated in Protestant churches was 69.5%. It is now 33.2%.]

Deaths, unlike births, happen to people we already know. So there is little doubt about who is dying. We know the proportions of most ages according to their religions, and we know the age specific mortality rates. Putting the two together, we can make a fairly good estimate of the community breakdown of the deaths. The average age of death is 75 (71 for men, 79 for women); so if we assume that the religious proportion of the deaths is that of the 75 year-olds in the population (known from the religious proportions at age 69 in the 2001 census), we can estimate that 65% of the deaths (9522 people) were Protestant, and 35% (5127) were Catholic.

(When the words 'Catholic' and 'Protestant' are used above they refer to people who are of Catholic or Protestant community origin. The people themselves may have no active religious belief or interest, and they may not vote according to the norms for their communities, but most evidence points to an enduring link with the religious, cultural and political identities of the group into which people are born.)

2007, therefore, saw no great change to the patterns that we have seen over the past generation. Catholics continue to have a slightly higher birth rate, so although they are lightly less numerous than Protestants in the age group 20-39 the number of Catholic children being born continues to exceed that of Protestant children. Two factors will act on the birth statistics over the next few years ­– the Catholic fertility rate may drop to close to that of Protestants, but the proportion of the child-bearing cohort that is Catholic will increase, and start to form the majority. So these two factors will cancel each other out, leaving, in all likelihood, a continuing Catholic majority amongst the babies. The deaths are mainly amongst Protestants, and will continue to be for at least another generation. So the net gain to Protestants will be lower that that to Catholics, leading to a continuing ‘greening’ of Northern Ireland’s population.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Armagh City and District Council

The 'Christian Capital of Ireland', as Armagh is sometimes called, hosts both the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland. Its district surrounds it, and is divided into three further DEAs; The Orchard, Crossmore, and Cusher.


There has been very little change in Armagh over the last political generation (1985-2005). A gradual increase in the nationalist proportion is visible, along with a corresponding decline in the unionist proportion, but no dramatic changes have occurred. At the level of the DEAs, the nationalist areas have become more nationalist, which has helping to raise the overall nationalist share from 39.3% in 1985 to 46.5% in 2005. Cusher, the most unionist DEA, covering the towns of Tandragee and Markethill, has barely changed at all, ending the period with almost exactly the same proportions as it started.

Although the picture looks fairly stable, the proportions of the electorate (i.e. all those aged 18 and over) received by the two blocks is clearly changing:

The coincidence of Westminster elections with the district elections in 2001 boosted the turnout of both blocks, but even when this is taken into account, the picture is one of nationalist advance, and unionist retreat in Armagh. At the start of the period in 1985 unionism received votes from 41.5% of the whole electorate, and nationalism received 26.9%. At the end of the period in 2005, unionism received the votes of only 36.3% of the electorate, while nationalism's share had risen to 32.3%. The gap had thus reduced from 14.7% to 4%. At this rate of change, Armagh would have become a majority-nationalist district by 2013.


The gradualness of the electoral changes is mirrored in the religious demography of the area. There is no rapid change, but rather a slow and steady decline in the proportion of Protestants at each age, and a corresponding slow and steady increase in the Catholic proportion. Three phases can be observed: amongst those aged 50 and over (in 2001) there is a declining Protestant majority – even at very elderly ages this barely exceeds 60% of the total; between 20 and 50 the two groups are equal in proportion, both claiming 50% of the total; but below the age of 20 there is a sudden increase in the nationalist proportion, which then tails off. What has happened in the seven years since the census is unknown, and it will be very interesting to see.

In terms of actual numbers, the graph below shows the same phenomena:

The spike of Catholics around age 16 (in 2001) will have started to enter the electorate since this snapshot was taken. Its effects have not yet been seen, however. As they start to vote in increasing numbers (young people have, of course, a notoriously low turn-out rate), we should see further gains for nationalism.

The electorate

In 2001, 47.0% of the electorate was Catholic, and 52.1% was Protestant. In that year, 47.2% of the vote in the district council elections in Armagh went to nationalist candidates, and 51.5% went to unionist candidates. These almost identical proportions indicate yet again how strong the overlap between religious and political identities is. When the young people (those situated around the Catholic spike at age 16 shown above) start to vote, the electorate will become more Catholic and thus, almost certainly, more nationalist.

The future

Armagh City and District Council will cease to exist before the next local elections. The area will be subsumed into the new Armagh City and Bann District Council, which will encompass the old districts of Armagh, Craigavon and Banbridge. Since both Craigavon and (especially) Banbridge are majority-unionist, the new district will start with a built-in unionist majority. Based on the results of the 2005 local elections the proportions will be around 59% unionist to 38% nationalist. As we have seen in Craigavon, and here in Armagh, the nationalist proportions are gradually increasing, but for the foreseeable future the new district will remain unionist.

Antrim Borough Council

Located at the north-east corner of Lough Neagh, Antrim district stretches from Belfast to the River Bann. It comprises three DEAs: Antrim Town in the middle; North-West; and South-East, which hosts Belfast International Airport (previously Aldergrove).

In recent years the area's demographics have changed, as a result of a considerable influx of new residents, mostly from nearby Belfast.


The influx from Belfast, perhaps also assisted by indigenous natural factors, has been gradually increasing the nationalist share of the vote. From a level around 23% at the start of the political generation, the nationalist proportion has risen to almost 36%. The unionist proportion has declined correspondingly, from 68% to 57%. The North-West DEA has become a majority nationalist area during the period; though, since it is further from Belfast this may be due to natural increase rather than in-migration.


The demography of the area is unusual. Unlike other areas where there has been a continuous decline in the Protestant proportion of the population at successive lower ages, in Antrim the Protestant proportion was quite flat at around 70% for ages from 60 up to 90+ in 2001, but below 60 it drops quite quickly, to around 55% for the age range 30 to 55. This implies some in-migration of Catholics, starting probably about 25-30 years before the census (i.e. in the 1970s). This is consistent with Antrim's position as a safe area not far beyond the areas of west Belfast where many new residents probably came from.

The children of these recent incomers and the existing Catholic residents were (in 2001) exactly equal in number to the children of the Protestant community. There is now no visible difference in the proportions of the two groups at all ages under 20.

The statistics show a significant increase in the numbers of kids with no religion – though since their parents (who filled in the census return) clearly do have religions, it is likely that these kids are either the result of mixed marriages, or that they will, as they grow up, identify with the community of their parents. Only the next census will tell us more about them.

A striking feature is the apparent collapse in Protestant births in Antrim. Protestants at prime parenting age (25-40 years old) are having considerably fewer kids than necessary to replace themselves. For example, 30 year old Protestants (the peak age for first births) number around 500, but the number of Protestant births in the year before the census was 269. For Catholics, the 327 30-year olds corresponded with 311 births. These figures are only indicative, of course, but over the child-bearing group (25-40) the numbers of Protestants are clearly greater than amongst the children (0-15). Maybe all of the children recorded as 'no religion' are really Protestant? Who knows?

The electorate

In 2001 the proportion of the electorate (i.e. all of those aged 18 and over) in Antrim that was Catholic was 36.2%. The Protestant proportion was 60.4%. In that same year, the nationalist share of the vote was 33.8%, and the unionist share was 58.7%. The Alliance Party (5.5% in 2001) clearly picked up votes from both communities.

The future

In 2011 Antrim will be merged with Newtownabbey in the new Antrim and Newtownabbey District Council. Since Newtownabbey is predominantly unionist (73.6% in 2005) the new district will be an overwhelmingly unionist district – around 67% unionist, 20% nationalist, and the rest either Alliance or 'others'.

The new district will have almost (but not exactly) the same boundaries as the South Antrim Westminster/Assembly constituency.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Shankill – 'Original Belfast'?

Being Communications has launched a 'brand' for the Shankill – essentially just a logo and a slogan. The logo is, unimaginatively, just a union jack the slogan 'Original Belfast' on it.

Given that the Shankill is not short of union jack flags, the (publicly funded?) logo seems superfluous, not to mention overly political, as the union jack is very closely identified with the loyalist murderers for whom the Shankill is famous. Mark Thompson, design director with Being Communications who designed the brand, said that "The Shankill name is world famous. We should take advantage of that." Well, it is, of course, world famous, but not in a good way! It is known as a hotbed of loyalist extremism, murder, drug-dealing and sectarianism – usually illustrated in the world's media with a host of union jacks, just like the logo that Mr Thompson has designed.

Thompson is, of course, more than just a mere designer of pseudo-political logos, he is also Chairman of the Ulster-Scots Agency, and thus an active player in Northern Ireland's culture wars.

The logo was launched in the Shankill Library and endorsed by politicians including Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster and Finance Minister Nigel Dodds.

At the launch Arlene Foster said that "all the great cities throughout the world have different parts to their cities. If you go to New York for example, there's Brooklyn and the Bronx, in London there's Covent Garden and Soho. We are hoping when people come to Belfast they will go to the Titanic Quarter and the Shankill and get that authentic feeling of Belfast."

So the Minister for Enterprise wants visitors to go to the Titanic Quarter (in unionist East Belfast) and the Shankill (the unionist part of West Belfast). Is she the Minister for all the people, or just unionists?

Foster also said that she thought the new brand identified what the Shankill was about. On that, she is pretty much correct – nothing much other than flag-waving.

So the unionists' obsession with pushing their flag into the faces of those who do not want it, is being continued through the guise of 'tourism'. Foster, and all of those other people involved in this project, know that the T-shirts emblazoned with the Shankill logo will be (and are probably intended to be) de facto loyalist uniforms. No tourist should be encouraged to buy them without being made ware that they are, in effect, being used as weapons in a seedy culture war.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Ballymoney District Council

Although situated in unionist North Antrim, Ballymoney is slowly changing. It has always been a majority unionist district, and remains one today, but the size of its nationalist minority is increasing.


There is little evidence of unionist decline in Ballymoney. Or at least, where there has been some decline (in Bushvale and particularly Bann Valley) it has been compensated by gains in Ballymoney Town, where unionism has picked up most of the votes that used to go to independents like Bob McComb, Colin McVicker and Bill Williamson (in 1997 these three polled 33.7% between them, before disappearing from electoral politics – none of them seems to have stood again). In 2005 Ballymoney Town had no independent candidates for the first time in the whole electoral generation (1985-2005). Nationalism made its début in Ballymoney Town only in 1997, and has also picked up a few of the independent votes.

In general, nationalism is making some gains, and now accounts for around 32.2% of the vote in the district. No independent candidates at all stood in 2005 (Bill Kennedy was listed as one, in Bushvale, but he was a previous DUP councillor, so is counted as a unionist), so the scope for either political block to pick up additional votes in the future is zero – only demographic change will increase or decrease their vote.

As a proportion of the electorate (i.e. all of those eligible to vote), nationalism has also made gains, while unionism has ended the generation at the same level as the start:


Ballymoney remains a Protestant majority district, though that majority is shrinking. Amongst old people, Protestants account for some 80%, whilst among their grandchildren the proportion is just below 60%. Catholics account for just under 40% of the kids.

The actual figures show two features that are interesting.

Firstly, the drop-off at age 19 is less pronounced amongst Catholics than amongst Protestants. Does this mean that fewer Catholics go to university? Or that Catholics go to university locally (i.e. in Coleraine) while Protestants are more inclined to go elsewhere, maybe even to England or Scotland?

Secondly, another one of those intriguing Protestant spikes can be seen at age 29. We saw these previously in Strabane, Magherafelt and Limavady. In all cases the likelihood is that they represent police or army personnel who are living in particular areas for their own personal safety. Maybe they are even recommended to concentrate themselves in these areas to minimise risk?

The electorate

In 2001 the electorate in Ballymoney was 30% Catholic and 68.8% Protestant. In that year nationalist candidates took 29.1% of the votes, and unionist candidates took 67.0% of the vote. This shows, yet again, how close the correlation between community identity and political identity is.

The graph above showing the percentages of Catholics and Protestants at each age shows hat nationalism may expect some growth in the next generation, as the kids (who are almost 40% Catholic) enter the electorate. However, this will be a slow and steady process, and will not lead to any revolutions.

The future

In 2011 Ballymoney, along with Limavady, Coleraine and Moyle, will form part of the new Causeway Coast district:
Due to the preponderance of Coleraine (70% unionist) in this new district, the new council will be around 60% unionist (on 2005 results), and 36% nationalist. It is likely, of course, that 2011 will be an election year of great interest, and will like 1996 attract lots of new individuals or parties to try their hand in the new councils, so the actual outcome may be different from the theoretical outcome.

Strabane District Council

Strabane is a district that used to be composed of two unionist majority rural DEAs (Glenelly and Derg) on either side of a fiercely nationalist town, Strabane (which, along with Sion Mills, makes up Mourne DEA). Unionism's demographic tide has been going out in this are, however, as elsewhere in the west of Northern Ireland, and now only Glenelly can be called unionist.


Although a numerical minority throughout the period, unionism used to have almost half of the seats on the Council for periods, thanks to their slight advantage in two DEAs. In the last few elections, though, nationalism has strengthened its position, and currently holds 11 of the 16 seats on the Council (note that James O'Kane is counted as a nationalist, on the basis of his background and voting record in the council). The proportion of the vote won by nationalist candidates has gradually increased from 54.9% in 1985 to 63.3 in 2005:

Over the same period the unionist share of the vote has declined from 45.1% to 36.7%, and they have lost their majority of the vote in Derg DEA:

As a percentage of the electorate (i.e. all of those eligible to vote, not just those who did vote), the decline in unionism is more visible:

Unionism's share of the electorate has declined from 33.8% in 1985 to 25.8% in 2005. Nationalism's share, while more volatile, started the period at 41.1% and ended it at 44.7%. At its highest point it reached 49% in 2001. The gap between the unionist and nationalist shares of the electorate therefore widened from 7.3% in 1985 to 18.9% in 2005.


Much of the reason for the widening gap between the nationalist and unionist votes in Strabane can, as elsewhere, be found in the demographic profile of the district.

From a situation of only slight majority amongst those born 70 to 90 years ago, the Catholic proportion of births has generally increased each year since then, until it reached a plateau of 70% in the mid-1970s. It appears to have remained at 70% ever since (though the figures are those of the 2001 census, and things may have changed since then. We'll have to wait for the results of the 2011 census to know). Protestants have a corresponding bottoming out of their percentages at around 30%.
The actual numbers in each age cohort are also interesting:

Firstly, although the numbers show a large outflow of Catholics around age 19 (to university or migration), the proportion of Protestants who, leave is actually similar, as the percentage graph shows.

Secondly, there is a spike in Protestant numbers at age 28, which is not matched by a corresponding Catholic spike, and must not, therefore, be due to a long hot summer the year before. It is likely that these 'extra' Protestants were members of the police or army living in 'friendly' territory in Glenelly while patrolling in Strabane and Derry. They are likely to be less numerous by 2011, and (thanks to 50/50 recruitment by the PSNI) less homogeneously Protestant.

The electorate

Out of the population aged 18 and over in 2001, Catholics formed 64.2% and Protestants formed 35.3%. In the same year, the nationalist proportion of the vote was 62.3%, and the unionist proportion was 35.6%. There is thus a fairly close correlation between community identification and political identification.
When you remember that, as shown in the graphs above, the proportion of hose under 18 is closer to 70% Catholic/30% Protestant, it is clear that the nationalist vote will continue to increase, and the unionist vote to decrease, over the next generation.

The future

In 2011 Strabane will merge with Derry City to form a new District, with the slightly clumsy title of Derry City and Strabane District Council. This name annoys unionists considerably, as their recent submissions to the Local Government Boundary Commissioner made clear.

Seemingly oblivious to the irony, the DUP submitted that: "The Party is profoundly unhappy with the proposed name of this Council. The DUP is astounded that the LGBC proposes such a name considering the divisive and contentious nature of this suggestion. The adoption of ‘Derry City’ was an exercise in vulgar triumphalism and not an exercise the LGBC should be perpetuating. In comparison, Londonderry, the city’s official name, is a model of inclusiveness."

The UUP said: "In Derry City & Strabane - which we would rename the City of Londonderry & Strabane (or at the very least “Foyle”), as a name which could command cross-community support and recognise the city’s historic heritage."

Whatever the eventual name for the district is, it will be a largely nationalist area. Based on the results of the most recent local elections (2005) the new district was 72.1% nationalist and only 25.3% unionist. The passage of time until the next elections in 2011 should see those figures evolve slightly in favour of nationalism.