15 March 2007 Edition
Assembly Election : Sinn Féin takes 28 seats
A decade of electoral growth
BY ROBBIE SMYTH
It is hard to know where to begin the process of cataloguing Sinn Féin’s electoral victory in last week’s Assembly election. It wasn’t just the process of cementing its position as the third largest party on the island, or as the leading nationalist voice in the Assembly, it was the other gains made by Sinn Féin in its ongoing electoral growth.
For example of the 28 MLAs elected, ten will be new members, though some of the new MLAs are veteran republican activists like Martina Anderson, Carál Ní Chuilín or Paul Butler, it will be their first time in Stormont.
The other seven new MLAs are Michelle O’Neill, Cathal Boylan, Mickey Brady, Daithí McKay, Paul Maskey, Jennifer McCann and Clare McGill. Gerry McHugh returns to the Assembly while Sean Lynch lost out in a tight Sinn Féin vote management strategy to get the third seat in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, but that maybe will be the story of the fourth Assembly election in 2011.
Then there were the Sinn Féin breakthroughs in South Antrim where Mitchel McLaughlin topped the poll, and Lagan Valley where Paul Butler put a 2,000 plus vote gap between himself and the SDLP to take a new seat for Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin has now elected representation in 14 out of the 18 constituencies, in six it has more representatives than the SDLP and it is only in Foyle that SDLP representatives outnumber Sinn Féin, the SDLP elected three MLA’s to Sinn Féin’s two.
Then there is that little matter of the five Sinn Féin seats in West Belfast, a feat not matched by any other party in the Assembly.
Finally there are the eight Sinn Féin women MLAs. They are Martina Anderson, Michelle Gildernew, Jennifer McCann, Clare McGill, Carál Ní Chuilín, Michelle O’Neill, Sue Ramsey and Caitríona Ruane. It is the highest representation of women in the Assembly in any of the major parties, but still leaves plenty of room for improvement.
The Antrim constituencies
North Antrim was the breakthrough constituency for Sinn Féin in 2003 as the party took a seat in Ian Paisley’s home base. Daithí McKay repeated the feat this time around winning 7,065 votes and 15.94% of first preferences improving in vote share on 2003 and 2005. With a quota of 6,334 McKay was elected on the first count with the DUP party leader.
Declan O’Loan took the last seat in North Antrim for the SDLP without reaching the quota, helped by 300 transfers from McKay’s surplus.
In East Antrim Sinn Féin’s Oliver McMullan built on the growth of previous elections winning 3.89% of first preferences pushing the party vote above 1,000 votes for the first time. Oliver won 1,168 first preferences.
In what was the biggest gamble of any candidate of the election Mitchel McLaughlin’s move from Foyle to South Antrim paid off as he topped the poll, trumping the DUP’s Willie McCrea and getting elected on the first count.
McLaughlin won 16.54% of first preferences, up over 5% on 2003, with 6,313 votes, the quota was 5,494.
The sea change in Belfast politics over the past 20 years is most aptly demonstrated by the fact that Sinn Féin now holds one third of the 24 seats up for grabs in the four city constituencies.
East Belfast remains the lone constituency without a Sinn Féin Assembly member. Niall Ó Donnghaille held the Sinn Féin vote steady winning 1,055 votes and 3.56% of first preferences.
In South Belfast Alex Maskey increased vote share on the 2003 Assembly election performance that won Sinn Féin a seat here. Maskey took13.17% of first preferences, up from the 9% the party vote dipped to in the 2005 Westminster elections. Maskey was elected on the 10th count along with Carmel Hanna of the SDLP and the UUP’s Michael McGimpsey.
Sinn Féin’s North Belfast vote also jumped compared to the 2003 and 2005 performance as the Sinn Féin team of Gerry Kelly and Carál Ní Chuilín took 30.6% of first preferences up 3.6% on 2003. The Sinn Féin vote share in North Belfast is now more than double the SDLP’s 13.73%.
In West Belfast, Sinn Féin stacked up the electoral records. So for posterity lets list them. First off is the vote share which at 69.93% was an Assembly high though just off the 70% reached in the 2005 Westminster election.
Then there was the fact that Sinn Féin candidates held the top five positions after the first count with Gerry Adams topping the poll, I know he is the party president but his name is top of the ballot paper too!
Finally there is the little matter of winning the five out of six seats with the DUP’s Dianne Dodds losing her seat.
Sinn Féin vote up in Down
Deaglan Page was the Sinn Féin candidate in North Down, his 390 votes were a high here for the party, while Dermot Kennedy broke the 1,000 mark for Sinn Féin in Strangford.
In South Down, the Sinn Féin vote is growing more strongly and the party vote share jumped over 4% to 30.65%. Catríona Ruane topped the poll with 6,334 votes just short of the 6,588 quota. Willie Clarke held the second seat won in 2003 with Eamonn McConvey holding onto until the seventh count. With the SDLP vote falling 3.75% the two parties are now neck and neck in this key constituency.
Derry and Foyle
Sinn Féin passed the 20% mark of first preferences in East Derry and Francie Brolly was re-elected for the party. Billy Leonard missed out on the second seat being eliminated after the seventh of nine counts
In Foyle Martina Anderson and Raymond McCartney held onto the two seats won in 2003. Lynn Fleming the third Sinn Féin candidate held until the seventh count. Sinn Féin won 30.82% of first preferences compared to 37% for the SDLP.
Fermanagh and Tyrone
The Sinn Féin vote in Fermanagh/South Tyrone grew to 36.25% up nearly 2% on 2003, but not matching the 38.2% won in the 2005 Westminster elections. The party retained their two Assembly seats but the challenge for the third faltered with Gerry McHugh just edging past fellow Sinn Féin candidate and sitting Assembly member Seán Lynch on the last count.
In West Tyrone, Sinn Féin broke the 40% mark, a feat not achieved since the 2001 Westminster poll that elected Sinn Féin vice president Pat Doherty. The party vote jumped by nearly 6% to 44.48% and Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff, Pat Doherty and Clare McGill ran one, two and three after the first count with McElduff and Doherty well past the 5,923 quota. The SDLP who ran a three candidate strategy won 14.52% of the vote but failed to elect an Assembly member as independent Kieran Deeny took the last seat on the 7th count.
Lagan Valley and Upper Bann
Lagan Valley was the second breakthrough constituency for Sinn Féin as Paul Butler substantially upped the Sinn Féin vote on 2003 taking 12.19% of first preferences up 4.33% on 2003 and taking a vital seat from the SDLP whose vote stood still.
In Upper Bann John O’Dowd topped the poll and was elected on the first count. Sinn Féin won 25.3% of first preferences up nearly 3.5% on 2003 and double the SDLP vote share.
Dessie Ward the second Sinn Féin candidate was helped substantially by the distribution of O’Dowd’s surplus taking nearly 1,100 votes and he hung on until the 12th count losing the last seat to the UUP’s George Savage.
The second highest share of first preferences for Sinn Féin was in Mid Ulster where Martin McGuinness topped the poll. Sinn Féin’s vote share was at 47.64% on a par with the 2005 Westminster performance and just over 2% up on 2003. Francie Molloy retained his seat while Michelle O’Neill won a third seat for Sinn Féin.
It was three seats also in Newry Armagh, where the Sinn Féin vote grew to 42.08% up on the 2005 Westminster vote that elected Conor Murphy and the 2003 Assembly elections that returned three seats for Sinn Féin.
This time around Conor Murphy who topped the poll and along with Cathal Boylan was elected on the first count. The other Sinn Féin newcomer Mickey Brady was elected on the fourth count.
The Sinn Féin vote at a glance
28 — The number of Sinn Féin MLAs
24 — Number of MLAs in 2003
10 — The number of new MLAs
26.26% — Percentage of first preferences won by Sinn Féin
8 — The number of SF women MLAs
14 — Constituencies with Sinn Féin representation
69.93% — Sinn Féin’s highest share of first preferences recorded in West Belfast
South Antrim and Lagan Valley — constituencies with SF MLAs for the first time
The Sinn Féin 28
Gerry Kelly and Carál Ní Chuilín
Gerry Adams, Paul Maskey, Jennifer McCann, Fra McCann and Sue Ramsey
Catríona Ruane and Willie Clarke
Michelle Gildernew and Gerry McHugh
Martina Anderson and Raymond McCartney
Martin McGuinness, Francie Molloy and Michelle O’Neill
Conor Murphy, Cathal Boylan and Mickey Brady
Barry McElduff, Pat Doherty and Clare McGill