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.

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