EU Referendum: Poor nationalist turnout helps boost Leave vote in Northern Ireland

Couting at the Titanic Count centre in Belfast in the EU referendum.
Photo Declan Roughan
 Presseye
Couting at the Titanic Count centre in Belfast in the EU referendum. Photo Declan Roughan Presseye

Many nationalists in Northern Ireland have chosen not to vote in the EU Referendum, with turnout significantly lower in nationalist areas across the Province.

Following last month’s Assembly election in which the nationalist vote fell alarmingly, there has been a huge differential between some unionist constituencies and some nationalist areas.

The most striking differential was between the largely affluent North Down and Sinn Fein’s West Belfast heartland.

Traditionally, North Down on the east coast has the lowest turnout in Northern Ireland, while westerly constituencies have the highest.

But in this referendum, turnout in North Down was at 67.3% – massively up on May’s Assembly election when it recorded a turnout of just 49%.

The nearby constituencies of Strangford (64%, up from 50.2%) and East Antrim (64.5%, up from 51%) saw similar leaps in turnout.

By contrast, there were actually fewer voters who came out to vote yesterday in West Belfast. Turnout in Gerry Adams’ back yard fell from 57.8% in the Assembly election to just 48.85% – the lowest in Northern Ireland.

And North Down’s turnout also surpassed that in two majority nationalist border constituencies – Foyle (57.18%) and West Tyrone (61.6%).

Some Remain supporters turned on Sinn Fein over the poor showings in republican areas.

Mid Ulster SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said: “In all our local campaign we never encountered or heard that Sinn Fein had been campaigning.”

But, speaking on the BBC, Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney argued that the referendum had seemed like a remote intra-Tory issue to many northern nationalists.