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.


Elections

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 d├ębut 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:


Demographics

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Catholics account for just under 40% of the kids... As someone who grew up in the Coleraine/Ballymoney area I am stunned to read that figure. I'm not disputing your research - it's just that the increase in the Catholic minority in majority Protestant areas is, in its own way, a more striking marker of shifting demographics than any increase in areas already over 50% Catholic.