Belfast West by-election 2011
A by-election in the Westminster Northern Irish constituency of Belfast West was held on June 9, 2011. The by-election was sparked by the resignation of the constituency’s Sinn Féin MP Gerry Adams in December 2010 in order to run (and win) for a seat in the Irish Dáil. Belfast West, Sinn Féin’s stronghold has been held by Gerry Adams since 1997 and prior to that between 1983 and 1992.
Belfast West is by far the most heavily Catholic seat in Northern Ireland, with a 82.7% Catholic community background in the 2001 census and only 16.2% having a Protestant community background. It is also the poorest seat in Northern Ireland, with 80% of census areas in the constituency being amongst the poorest 20% in Northern Ireland. The population is largely young and poorly educated. Belfast West includes the heavily Catholic working-class areas of Lower Falls and Upper Falls, which both split 4-1 in Sinn Féin’s favour against the SDLP in the 2011 local elections. The constituency also expands to include most of the Court electoral area, more specifically the Shankhill area, which is a heavily Protestant (and very poor) neighborhood north of the barricades. In 2011, the Court district elected 3 Democratic Unionists, one Unionist independent and one Progressive Unionist. The seat has been held since 1966 by nationalists, being represented by Gerry Fitt who won the seat in 1966 as a Republican Labour candidate, founded the SDLP in 1970 and left the SDLP in 1979 to sit as an independent. Fitt was defeated by Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams in 1983, who was himself defeated on a wave of tactical voting and rare cross-community voting by the SDLP’s Joe Hendron, one of the few Northern Irish politicians to enjoy a cross-community appeal. Hendron was defeated by Adams in 1997, who increased his margins in every election since to reach a record high of 71% of the vote and a 54.7% majority in 2010. Since 2007, Sinn Féin’s mastery of vote management has allowed them to win 5 out of the 6 Assembly seats with the SDLP’s Alex Attwood (the Environment Minister) winning the last seat. The DUP lost its seat here in the 2007 elections.
The candidates were Sinn Féin MLA Paul Maskey, SDLP MLA Alex Attwood and DUP councillor Brian Kingston who were joined by 2011 Assembly candidate Bill Manwaring for the UUP (the UUP won 4.2% in 2011), 19-year old student Aaron McIntyre for the Alliance and Gerry Carroll of the far-left People Before Profit which won 4.8% in 2011, their second best showing in Northern Ireland after Foyle. The by-election was boring, and turnout was 37.53%. Turnout in the Protestant areas must have been terrible, given that turnout there is always lower than in the Falls area.
Paul Maskey (SF) 70.63% (-0.45%)
Alex Attwood (SDLP) 13.45% (-2.92%)
Gerry Carroll (PBP) 7.62% (+7.62%)
Brian Kingston (DUP) 6.06% (-1.52%)
Bill Manwarring (UUP) 1.68% (-1.43%)
Aaron McIntyre (Alliance) 0.53% (-1.32%)
Shockingly unsurprising results, with Sinn Féin holding the seat with a huge majority (57.1%, the largest ever majority for any party in this constituency) though losing a bit of votes from the 2010 Gerry Adams high, though its showing is stronger than its 66% result in the May elections. Aside from the UUP’s disastrous result and the overall piss-poor showing of the Unionists, the main noteworthy result is Gerry Carroll’s very strong showing for the PBP which managed to place third and hold its deposit.