The DUP’s councillor in Knockiveagh DEA in Banbridge, Wilfred McFadden, has died. A by-election is not out of the question.
McFadden represented a DEA that is even more evenly split than another Banbridge DEA – Dromore – that gave the DUP its first bloody nose in 2008. In 2005 the DUP won 33.2% of the vote in Knockiveagh, against the UUP’s 27.8%. (The total nationalist vote was 27.1%, which is too low to hope to benefit from a split unionist vote in an STV election).
But in 2005 there was no TUV.
In neighbouring Dromore in 2008 the TUV took around 40% of the combined DUP-TUV vote, and cost the DUP a seat that it ought to have picked up. Even half of this loss would cost the DUP McFadden’s seat.
In the European Parliament election in 2009, although Jim Allister lost his seat, he picked up around 40% of the combined DUP-TUV vote – a sign that Dromore was not just a flash in the pan.
Of course it is too early yet to know if there will actually be a by-election in Knockiveagh. The TUV have a councillor in Banbridge – Stephen Herron – but there is no certainty whether the party will wish to ‘exploit’ the death of a councillor. In Dromore the by-election was only caused by a resignation. The UUP may relish the prospect of giving their rivals a pointed defeat, but neither nationalist party will provoke a by-election – that is seen simply as bad form following the death in office of a councillor, even one from the DUP.
In any case, it is unlikely that any by-election could be held before the upcoming Westminster election, so its propaganda effect for the TUV may be reduced. In fact, if the TUV do badly in the Westminster elections and then are beaten in a by-election they could lose valuable momentum leading up to the two possible ‘big’ elections in 2011, for the Assembly and the new councils.