Tuesday 9 December 2008

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.

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