Tuesday 2 December 2008

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.



Elections

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.

Demography

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.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff.Just one thing, why do you think the name 'Derry City and Strabane District Council' is 'clumsily named'.I would think that this name adequately covers all the various areas incorporated in the new council, the emphasis being on 'district' as this would include the rural areas of both Derry and Strabane councils.

Horseman said...

I think the name is a bit clumsy sounding. After all, it takes six words to say it, and it is clearly just a cobbling together of the two old names. Why not look for single new names for the new cuncils? In this respect, the Causeway Coast name is not bad, nor is Mid Ulster. But the other ones are unimaginative and backward looking.

Frankly, if Derry Cty could previously include large swathes of rural area (aka Derry Rural DEA), then why can't it include all of the Strabane area too? Or if that is too imperialist, then just call it 'Derry and Strabane DC'. OK, you only lose one word from the 'clumsy' title, but still ...

Anonymous said...

Quite simple really.The people of strabane, Newtownstewart,Castlederg,Plumbridge,and rural areas such as Aghyaran which is up to forty miles away from the City have no affinity with Derry, furthermore why would Tyrone people want to be represented by a council named 'Derry City Council'?, they are proud Tyrone people not Derry people.
I think 'Derry City and Strabane District council' brings everyone under the umbrella.The people of the principle City of Derry, with 'Derry City',rural Derry and Tyrone through the word 'district' and the principle town of Strabane within the former Strabane District Council with 'Strabane'.

I believe the DUP want to call it the north west regional but as far as I'm aware the people of Inishowen,Letterkenny,Ballybofey and Castlefinn will not be represented in this new supercouncil.

Anonymous said...

Quite simple really.The people of strabane, Newtownstewart,Castlederg,Plumbridge,and rural areas such as Aghyaran which is up to forty miles away from the City have no affinity with Derry, furthermore why would Tyrone people want to be represented by a council named 'Derry City Council'?, they are proud Tyrone people not Derry people.
I think 'Derry City and Strabane District council' brings everyone under the umbrella.The people of the principle City of Derry, with 'Derry City',rural Derry and Tyrone through the word 'district' and the principle town of Strabane within the former Strabane District Council with 'Strabane'.

I believe the DUP want to call it the north west regional but as far as I'm aware the people of Inishowen,Letterkenny,Ballybofey and Castlefinn will not be represented in this new supercouncil.