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.

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