sammymorse (sammymorse) wrote,

2007 Assembly Election Guide: Constituency No. 6 of 18 - East Derry

map 1
Maps by Conal Kelly and Nicholas Whyte

You might prefer to use the term East Londonderry rather than East Derry. That's fine by me, as the name is something of a misnomer anyway. The consituency consists of the Boroughs of Coleraine and Limavady, therefore taking in Portrush and Portballintrae which are, of course, in County Antrim. Coleraine outvotes Limavady by about two to one, although the gap has closed slightly in recent years. By far the biggest population centre in the constituency is the built up area consisting of Coleraine Town, Portrush and Portstewart. Other major towns and villages are Limavady, Garvagh, Kilrea and Aghadowey, set in rolling farmland; Castlerock, Magilligan, Ballykelly and Greysteel along the coast, along with Articlave a few miles inland; and Dungiven up in the foothills of the Sperrins. The constituency covers a substantial stretch of the North Coast - Portballintrae is practically beside the Giant's Causeway; Greysteel increasingly a dormitory village for Derry.

In terms of education, economics and deprivation, East Derry lies close to the Northern Ireland average, with most data clustering just on the positive side of that average, except in terms of unemployment. The age profile, family structure and percentage of births to unmarried mothers are almost exactly average for Northern Ireland, although the fertility rate is moderately low, at 1.66.

This hides considerable variation across the constituency. In general, the population of Coleraine Borough, as well as being more Protestant, tends to be older and less inclined to live in traditional family structures than that in Limavady. The fertility rate is particularly low in Coleraine Borough, and although it is not exceptionally high in Limavady either, the high proportion of the population aged under 16 in Limavady would tend to indicate a baby boom that has only recently ended. The rural areas tend to have much higher birth rates in both boroughs. By far the highest levels of fertility are found in the booming new suburban developments on the outskirts of the towns of Coleraine and Limavady, where a religiously mixed population of young families is in the process of nestmaking.

Coleraine, by far the largest population centre, shows considerable variation between its more prosperous and poorer areas. The leafy Mountsandel Road suburbs are among the most prosperous in Northern Ireland, whereas a considerable proportion of the town is covered by a Neighbourhood Renewal Area. The Housing Executive Estates in Churchlands, Windy Hall and Ballysally suffer from high levels of deprivation, and Windy Hall and Ballysally endure a Loyalist paramilitary presence with attendant sectarian attacks. Overall, the birth rate is lower and family structures are less traditional in Coleraine than in the rest of the constituency.

The generally prosperous resort towns of Portrush and Portstewart are the real demographic outliers in the constituency, with an ecclectic mix of students, young professionals, middle-class families and pensioners, as well as the odd person living a 'Costa del Dole' existence in houses of multiple occupation. Even more than Coleraine, the birth rate here is partiuclarly low, rivalling that of South Belfast, and the proportion of unmarried mothers and pensioners are both high. The best parts of Portrush and, in particular, Portstewart are among the most prosperous in NI.

For a small town of under 5,000 people, Limavady also has a surprising degree of contrast between its richer and poorer areas, with its eastern areas having economic indicators well above average, wheras the areas in the south-west of the town all lie in the poorest 15% of Northern Ireland census areas.

The rural areas show much less dramatic variation, although the east tends to be more prosperous than the west, with the villages of Castlerock and Ballykelly standing out as being much more prosperous than the rest of the rural hinterland, and Dungiven and Greystell slightly less so, although well outside Northern Ireland's most deprived fifth.

Demographically, most of the constituency is mixed to a fair degree, becoming more Catholic as one moves from east to west. Only Macosquin, Portballintrae, and some of the rural areas outside Coleraine have a Catholic population below 15%, and only Greysteel, Dungiven and the high country between Dungiven and the Glenshane Pass have a Protestant population below 15%. In general the more densely populated countryside to the east and the larger towns tend to have Protestant majorities, while the countryside in most of Limavady District and the town of Kilrea have Catholic majorities. This adds up to a constituency which is slightly more Protestant than average (59.2% Protestant, 37.9% Catholic, in 2001). In the larger towns, the Catholic population, by community background, was as follows: Articlave 18%, Ballykelly 60%, Castlerock 15%, Coleraine 23%, Dungiven 97%, Garvagh 25%, Greysteel 97%, Kilrea 69%, Limavady 42%, Macosquin 2%, Portballintrae 1%, Portrush 24% and Portstewart 39%.

Unsurprisingly, this results in a constituency that elects 4 Unionist and 2 Nationalist MLAs. Last time two each came from the UUP and DUP, and one each from the SDLP and Sinn Féin. The accountant's ledger of figures for the whole count can be found on Nicholas Whyte's website. The DUP, as in so many areas, gained the seat which had been won by an anti-Agreement Independent in 1998, and Sinn Féin gained a seat from the SDLP.

The Nationalist side is the easiest to dispose of this time. Both Nationalist parties have polled more than a quota in each election since the 2001 General Election, and there's no reason to doubt that will continue this time. The SDLP won the battle honours in both sets of elections in 2005, while Sinn Féin did in 2003. Seeing who will win more first preferences will probably be the limit of excitement in the contest between them this time.

I doubt Sinn Féin will want to lose high-profile Assembly member Francie Brolly, so he is likely to be given Limavady Borough, vote rich for Sinn Féin, while Billy Leonard will likely be given relatively weak Coleraine, where he is a councillor. It must be tempting for SF to push Leonard, perhaps the only prominent Protestant Republican. But I doubt they will do so at the expense of Brolly, one of the Chucks' rising stars.

For the SDLP, the similar imbalance in votes in favour of Limavady exists, which is why Coleraine-based John Dallat, long the most prominent Stoop in the area, came under surprising pressure from his Dungiven-based running mate Michael Coyle at the end of the 2003 count, when Coyle benefited from a massive transfer on the elimination of the Sinn Féin sweeper. This time Dallat's running mate will be Orla Beattie, a young primary school teacher from Glack, west of Limavady town. On paper, Dallat ought to be safe but it's tempting to think that history might repeat itself, particularly to the benefit of a young, attractive, female who is right at the top of the ballot paper. This one deserves close watching, but if both parties do opt to split the vote along the Borough boundary, Leonard's transfers from Coleraine should favour Dallat. In any case, there will be no change in party composition - one Shinner and one Stoop.

Republican Sinn Féin are contesting here in the shape of Michael McGonigle, a former Sinn Féin councillor for the Dungiven area, who left the mainstream Republican movement in 1986 along with Ruairí O Brádaigh. Pre-ceasefire, Sinn Féin could usually manage 30% of the vote in the Benbradagh electoral area, which covers Dungiven, but never even contested elections in other parts of the constituency, even in the majority Nationalist Bellarena DEA. This does not strike me as a recipe for dissident electoral success.

On the Unionist side, things are a little more interesting. Even in 2003, the DUP considerably outpolled the UUP here and since then the DUP have outpolled the UUP by 43% to 21% in the Westminster Election and by 32.1% to 24.3% in the local elections. As in many other places, based on the local government figures the Ulster Unionists would have a fighting chance of holding both seats, whereas based on the general election figures, the DUP would sweep three seats relatively easily. This is very difficult to call but I'm inclined to think the odds favour the DUP.

One reason is that those local election figures almost certainly understate the DUP's level of support a bit. The 'United Unionist Coalition' a small anti-agreement group associated with former Assembly member Boyd Douglas polled a further 3.8%, mostly in the Dungiven area where they were given a free run by the DUP. Similarly, in the 2003 Assembly elections, Boyd Douglas and anti-Agreement former UUP MLA Pauline Armitage polled 8.2% of the vote between them, well over half a quota. This indicates plenty of room for right-wing Unionism to grow.

Secondly, the Ulster Unionists are, once again, running three candidates in a constituency where they have a difficult defence of two seats. Sitting Assembly members David McClarty (based in Coleraine) and Norman Hillis (based in Portrush) will be joined, once again, by Limavady Councillor Edwin Stevenson. While one might argue that this gives them geographical width, it also leaves them with three candidates fighting over less than two quotas, with all the problems of leakage that brings with it. Last time they lost 19% of Stevenson's votes when he was eliminated.

McClarty has traditionally been the leading UUP votegetter in East Derry, with 4069 votes in 2003, and I don't expect that to change. Hillis did not poll all that well last time, with 2292 first preferences and although he has incumbency on his side, his base is rather isolated geographically. A stronger challenger may have given him pause for thought, but Stevenson managed only a measly 1408 first preferences last time. In any case, if the DUP are well organised, McClarty may well be the only UUP candidate elected anyway.

The DUP are running sitting Assembly members Gregory Campbell and George Robinson along with newcomer Adrian McQuillan. Campbell is the sitting MP and clearly the 'marquee' candidate in the seat, Robinson has a strong base in Limavady having topped the poll in four local elections in a row, and Garvagh-based McQuillan seems to have a solid anchorage in the rural part of Coleraine district. While the DUP might poll three whole quotas, if they fall somewhat short they will have to balance well here; the distinct bases of each of their candidates gives them the opportunity to do that. Their balance of roughly 4800/3500/2800 wasn't bad, although they'll probably want to manage Campbell down another little bit, although not to the extent of seeing him at risk.

The biggest potential spanner in the works for the DUP is the candidature of Joseph Cubitt on behalf of the UKUP. Cubitt was elected as a DUP councillor in the Bellarena area in the north of Limavady Borough and topped the poll. He is clearly a notch above the median UKUP candidate in terms of having solid local roots (note that, statistically, Bob McCartney is the median UKUP candidate). However, whether or not he makes an impact depends on whether or not anti-St. Andrew's campaigners can catch a wave with the electorate - if they do, he might be in the hunt for that final unionist seat, but at this stage, I wouldn't bet on it.

Alliance did modestly well here as recently as 1998, but their vote has collapsed to under 1000 in recent years. On the back of his win in the Skerries council by-election, Barney Fitzpatrick must try and at least match their 2001 vote of 4.1% and rebuild from there. The Greens have never done well here, and Philippe Moison may struggle to get more than the 189 votes they got in 1996 or the 137 the Socialist Environmental Alliance managed in 2003.

2003 vote - DUP 32.4%/2.26Q, UUP 22.7%/1.59Q, Sinn Féin 17.9%/1.25Q, SDLP 16.3%/1.14Q, Alliance 2.2%/0.16Q, Oth U 8.2%/0.57Q, SEA 0.4%/0.03Q.

Candidates - DUP: Gregory CAMBPELL*, Adrian McQUILLAN, George ROBINSON*. UUP: Norman HILLIS*, David McCLARTY*, Edwin STEVENSON. SF: Francie BROLLY*, Billy LEONARD. SDLP: Orla BEATTIE, John DALLAT*. Alliance: Barney FITZPATRICK. UKUP: Jospeh CUBITT. Republican Sinn Féin+: Michael McGONIGLE. Green: Philippe MOISON. (*=Sitting MLA;+=Will appear without a party label on the ballot paper)

Prediction: 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP.
Tags: 2007 constituency profiles, assembly 2007, elections, northern ireland, politics

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