West Belfast is a constituency comprising Falls Road, Andersonstown, Ballymurphy, Glen Road. It is mostly nationalist with small unionist areas in the Shankill area and a smaller enclave at Blacks Road. I lived in the constituency from my birth in 1952 until 1979.
Currently there are five MLAs…Sinn Féin (4) People Before Profit (1).
The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022.
West Belfast is of course considered a Sinn Féin stronghold. It was not always so. In my schooldays, it had a Unionist MP and it was mid 1966 before Gerry Fitt, later a founder member of the SDLP became MP for West Belfast.
SDLP has had a poor record in West Belfast. In 1973, the party only took two of the six seats for the new Assembly. And with the exception of Dr Joe Hendron (1992-97) has been a declining force. Alex Attwood lost its only Assembly seat in 2017.
In some ways, I am torn between writing a nostalgic piece about how much I love West Belfast, the Grosvenor Road area where I lived, sixty years of my parental family in Brighton Street across from An Cultúrlann where the SDLP Campaign was launched last week. The “West Belfast Nostalgia” post might be published after the election. But there would be an element of hypocrisy. In 1979 I was glad to get out to Dungannon in County Tyrone. Other families moved to Carryduff, Glengormley, Glenavy and Crumlin.
Whatever West Belfast is today…a one-party state dominated by Sinn Féin…is in part the fault of people like me.
But back in 2009 at Queens University, I wrote my dissertation for my degree at Queen’s University.
The story in 2022 is that Sinn Féin holds the Westminster seat and four of the five Stormont seats. It is not just about politics…it is about demographics and boundary changes and the changed nature of Society.
The quota will be short of 7,000 votes with plenty of nationalist/Sinn Féin motivation to secure “First Minister” status and maybe some unionist recognition that the game is finally up….or will be in a couple of decades.
Four Sinn Féin candidates. Two (Sheehan and Flynn) were elected in 2017. Reilly was a co-option and Baker is replacing veteran Alex Maskey who is retiring from politics.
Travelling up the Falls Road, Pat Sheehan has been allocated the area from Castle Street to the Kennedy Centre and oddly an area around the Andytown Leisure Centre. A small area from Kennedy Centre to Kennedy Way has been allocated to Reilly. So I presume she has been allocated Glen Road. The main Andytown to Suffolk area is allocated to Flynn and the area above Suffolk is allocated to Baker.
Hopefully I will travel into Andytown estate, Ballymurphy, Springfield to work this “vote management” strategy out.
“Vote Management” is the great strength of SF. The strategy is to divide the the perceived Sinn Féin into four parts of equal size. They will know the potential vote thru previous pre-election canvassing and the actual votes from individual ballot boxes at previous counts.
It is the point where Politics meets Mathematics.
Although Sinn Féin are the masters of the art form, they do not always get it right. It is not an exact science. In 2017, Sheehan’s vote was 1,500 behind the leading SF candidate.
People Before Profit is a catchy name for a political party but it seems more like a slogan. The party maybe over-estimated itself in 2017. Gerry Carroll was elected in 2016 with 3,000 votes above the quota. Trying for two seats in 2017, the party had less than a quota.
The four PBP members of Dáil Éireann disgraced themselves by not being fully behind Ukraine. This makes Gerry Carroll vulnerable to another slogan “Putin Before People”. On Westminster 2019 figures, there is still a possible quota but has the PBP bubble burst?
Can the decline of SDLP be halted? Paul Doherty was a newcomer in 2019 but will benefit from that experience. He reaches parts that other politicians do not reach. He runs a food bank that feeds 400 families a week. He is from West Belfast and worked in the Royal Victoria Hospital (the area’s largest employer) and was an active trade unionist. He has brought aid from West Belfast to the borders of Ukraine. He has had several posters stolen on the Shankill Road. He replaces them and he is a savvy performer in local newspapers and on social media. There are left-leaning and neutral and possibly unionist transfers in the mix.
Is it….and SDLP policies…enough. The point about Paul Doherty is that he can attract votes from beyond the SDLP…..votes on the basis of “I like his charity work” or “I worked with him at the Royal”. Never under-estimate the non-political votes.
A Declaration of Interest here. The SDLP Campaign launch was at An Cultúrlann and I played my part in Paul’s campaign, putting a leaflet thru the door of my grandparents house.
Frank McCoubrey (DUP) is a regular DUP performer here. But unlikely a quota can be put together from unionist votes.
Interesting to see how UUPs youthful newcomer, Linsey Gibson performs against DUP old stager McCoubrey.
Jordan Doran (TUV)…again its about the internal unionist battle.
If Donnamarie Higgins can muster over 1,500 votes (she got 1,800 at the Westminster election), Alliance would consider it a good result. At best the transfers are crucial.
Gerard Herdman Aontú will perform well. But the problem is whether Aontú votes siphon off votes for Sinn Féin and SDLP or whether they actually return to these parties as transfers.
The Green Party are of course on the rise but in WEst Belfast start from too low a base to be in the hunt for a seat.
In 2022, IRSP (Irish Republican Socialist Party) seems a curious throw back to the 20th century. Daniel Murphy will be lucky to get 200 votes.
Patrick Crossan represents the Workers Party. They are always with us. But People Before Profit are largely on their pitch.
Three Independents, Tony Mallon, Gerard Burns, Declan Hill make up the field.