sammymorse (sammymorse) wrote,

2007 Assembly Election Guide: Constituency No. 17 of 18 - Upper Bann

map 1
Maps by Conal Kelly and Nicholas Whyte

Upper Bann consists of all of Craigavon Borough and 9 of 17 wards from Banbridge Borough, including the eponymous town. It therefore covers the urbanised northernmost part of the County of Armagh and a sliver of West Down.

The vast bulk of the electorate live in the towns of Lurgan and Portadown, as well as the chain of estates known as Brownlow which were built in a futile attempt to enmesh them within the new town of Craigavon. Banbridge Town contains another significant slice of the electorate in this largely urbanised constituency. Other settlements tend to be rather small, the most significant of which are Aghagallon, Aghalee, Derrymacash, Maghery, Magheralin, Waringstown, Bleary, Donaghcloney, Gilford, Lawrencetown and Loughbrickland.

Like neighbouring Mid Ulster, Upper Bann has been a cockpit of sectarian conflict for four centuries and events in the past decade in Drumcree demonstrate how little has changed. The constituency's demographic balance is close to the Northern Ireland average (42.9% Catholic, 54.7% Protestant). There is some profound segragation, especially in the Craigavon end of the constituency. In Lurgan, the area from the town centre right up to Lough Neagh is almost entirely Catholic, with the exception of the village of Aghalee (only 11% Catholic - compare with 97% Catholic Aghagallon and 98% Catholic Derrymacash). The southern side of Lurgan is almost entirely Protestant, along with its satellite villages of Waringstown (5% Catholic) Donaghcloney (4%). Magheralin (30% Catholic) and Bleary (33%) are more mixed.

The estates of Brownlow were once a great social experiment in creating working-class mixed communties. The experiment evidently didn't work, and they are increasingly Catholic, almost entirely so in Drumgask ward, a little bit more mixed in Drumgor. In Drumgor ward, high property prices closer to Belfast seem to be driving new private development along the famous cycle tracks to nowhere, although much of this has happened to recently to be caught in the census. Mandeville and Parkmore, further west towards Portadown are overwhelmingly Protestant. Portadown itself, like Lurgan, has a stark North-South divide which parallels that in Lurgan, and the rural areas to its South are overwhelmingly Protestant, having much in common with the villages of Richhill and Tandragee, which lie just over the constituency border in Newry and Armagh.

The Banbridge end of the constituency is much more mixed, with Banbridge itself having a Catholic population of 34%, spread throughout the town, Gilford is evenly mixed (51% Catholic), as is Loughbrickland (49%), while Lawrencetown (87%) is something of a Catholic enclave.

At 1.92, the total fertility rate is a little over the average of 1.80, although below the replacement level of 2.10. In general terms, it tends to be lower than that average in Lurgan and Banbridge, about the average in Portadown and Brownlow, and well above that average in the rural areas between Lurgan and the Lough and in particular in the rural parts of Banbridge District, peaking at 2.42 in Lawrencetown.

In economic terms, Upper Bann rates just below the Northern Ireland average, but that hides stark divisions within the constituency, which contains by far the biggest concentration of deprived communities outside Belfast and Derry. The inner areas of Lurgan and Portadown and Brownlow's Estates all lie within the most deprived fifth of Northern Ireland's communities, and in places considerably worse than that.

Almost all the rural areas, however, are less deprived than the Northern Ireland average, and even the relatively least well off are close to the Northern Ireland average. In contrast to Mid Ulster, the poorly drained land close to Lough Neagh, almost entirely Catholic, is not notably deprived, and indeed seems to enjoying quite a bit of prosperous exurban development.

Banbridge also tends to be rather more prosperous than average, and even its poorer areas are reasonably comfortable, with poverty statistics only a little worse than average. All three major towns have an upmarket corner which ranks among the wealthiest areas in Northern Ireland.

In 2003, Upper Bann returned the following spread of MLAs: 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SF and 1 SDLP . The only change in seats was, yet again, the DUP pick up of the seat won by a minor anti-agreement candidate in 1998, although interestingly here Dennis Watson had already defected to the DUP and stood for them in the election - but polled poorly and saw Stephen Moutray pick up his seat. Nicholas Whyte's figures show every transfer at every stagte of the count.

There has been speculation that a third nationalist could be elected here. However, the 38% combined Nationalist vote in 1998 was a high water mark, so things are almost certain to stay 4-2 in favour of Unionists this time, although with any argument to vote tactically for Trimble gone, the Nationalist share of the vote may rise.

With Trimble at the top of the ticket in 2003, the UUP still managed to outpoll the DUP narrowly. But in 2005, the DUP enjoyed a hefty lead over the UUP in the local elections (31.3% to 25.4%), and in the General Election, David Simpson beat Trimble by a whopping 37.6% to 25.5%. This latter figure would show the DUP starting to move towards three seat territory, although with a considerable number of transfers available to the UUP, they would need to increase their share of the vote to at least 40% on the day to do it.

That is the DUP's stated aim, however, and to do that they have aimed for a good geographical balance. Sitting MLAs, Portadown-based David Simpson MP and Lurgan-based Stephen Moutray, will be joined by a Banbridge candidate, Junior McCrum, all the cleverer because Banbridge has traditionally been the weakest end of the constituency for them. McCrum, however, doesn't strike me as being the strongest candidate; he didn't exactly set the world on fire in Banbridge Town in the last council elections (although active vote management may have played a part), and his media presence since being elected to the council in 2005 has been thin. Although the DUP's concept of widening their geographical base is conceptually sound, the fate of the third seat will rest on the DUP's NI-wide performance and if they fail to make the gain, expect the well established Simpson and Moutray to outpoll McCrum comfortably and retain their seats.

Without Trimble at the top of the ticket, the UUP are fielding a trio of candidates who, while arguably being very worthy, are not the most exciting. Sammy Gardiner, George Savage and Arnold Hatch have all been councillors on and off for decades (although all three 'took a little break from local politics' after 1988 when they were surcharged for their role in the St. Peter's GAC affair).

At least one of them will definitely lose out, and I'd reckon Savage is the most likely. Hatch has his Portadown base all to himself, while Gardiner has nearly always outpolled Savage heavily in Lurgan, which they both represent at council level. Gardiner also seems to have learned from his mistake in 1998 when he polled only an anaemic first preference vote and saw Savage overtake him on the transfer of David Trimble's massive surplus and is now well dug in. If only one Ulster Unionist makes it, Portadown has become pretty dreadful territory for the UUP of late and Hatch hasn't polled more than 1000 votes in a local election since 1981, so Gardiner should be safe, with Hatch looking to see off McCrum for the fourth Unionist seat.

Complicating matters is the presence of not one, but two candidates from the Loyalist right. David Calvert is a serial independent candidate for Craigavon Council, habitually polling a respectable vote without managing to be elected. Calvert is a fairly mainstream anti-St. Andrews candidate. Further out on the fringe is Suzanne Peeples, wife of convicted Orange Volunteers' bomber Clifford Peeples. Calvert should poll 1000 votes or so, Peeples a lot less than that. Interestingly, Peeples is the only declared anti-St. Andrews candidate not endorsed by the Voice4Deomcracy website.

On the Nationalist side, Sinn Féin are making optimistic noises about taking two seats and knocking out the SDLP. It's just about possible, but it's a hell of an ask. In the 2005 general election, Sinn Féin outpolled the SDLP by 21.0% to 13.0% - from that base, Sinn Féin would need a further swing of only about 1.7% to poll more than twice the Stoops' vote. However, even if they did that, the SDLP could expect some transfers from minor candidates, while Sinn Féin would have to balance perfectly.

In any case, the local election polls showed a much narrower Sinn Féin lead of only 18.4% to 17.3%; the SDLP general election figure was probably depressed by 1.7% through tactical voting for David Trimble. They can expect to get these votes back this time. In my view, taking two seats will be a bridge too far for Sinn Féin, especially with Republican Sinn Féin having a candidate here through Kilwilkie republican Barry Toman, who will not poll well, but may cost Sinn Féin a crucial few hundred votes which don't come back on transfers.

Like the DUP, Sinn Féin have a candidate from the under-represented Banbridge end of the constituency in the shape of Banbridge Councillor Dessie Ward, who will partner John O'Dowd who is seeking a second term in the Assembly here. I imagine Sinn Féin will not want to risk the high-profile O'Dowd in an aggressive balancing strategy that would have a low probability of success, which will further reduce their chances of taking two seats.

The SDLP are following the same geographical strategy, with a Craigavon candidate in sitting MLA and Policing Board member Dolores Kelly, partnered by a Banbridge Councillor in Patrick McAleenan. Given that their vote dropped below the one quota mark in the Westminster election, this may not be the smartest strategy as Sinn Féin will probably be hoping that a proportion of McAleenan's transfers go to Ward on the 'neighbour' basis. However, if they can keep their vote in the same region of that in the local elections they should be alright. All the same, I can see why Sinn Féin are having a go here.

Upper Bann will have a reasonable spread of candidates from the non-aligned parties. Alliance are fielding Sheila McQuaid, wife of Banbridge councillor Frank, and will be aiming to secure that seat and maybe build towards picking up a Craigavon seat in the supercouncil elections. The Tories first dipped their toe in the Northern Ireland parliamentary waters back at the 1990 Upper Bann by-election; David Fry would be doing very well to get half the 3% Colette Jones managed way back then. The Greens' Helen Corry, another member of their strong Downpatrick activist base, completes the ballot paper.

2003 vote - UUP 29.4%/2.06Q, DUP 28.5%/2.00Q, Sinn Féin 21.8%/1.53Q, SDLP 15.7%/1.10Q, Alliance 1.3%/0.09Q, Workers' Party 0.6%/0.04Q, Oth U 2.7%/0.19Q.

Candidates - UUP: Sam GARDINER*, Arnold HATCH, George SAVAGE. DUP: Junior McCRUM, Stephen MOUTRAY*, David SIMPSON*. Sinn Féin: John O'DOWD*, Dessie WARD. SDLP: Dolores KELLY*. Alliance: Sheila McQUAID. Green: Helen CORRY. Conservative: David FRY. Republican SF+: Barry TOMAN. Independents: David CALVERT, Suzanne PEEPLES. (*=Sitting MLA; += Will appear on the ballot without a party label)

Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Sinn Féin, 1 SDLP.
Tags: 2007 constituency profiles, assembly 2007, elections, northern ireland, politics

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