Unless they cast their nets wider, unionist parties are increasingly fishing in a dwindling Protestant pool for unionist votes

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor
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Monday’s analysis of the local council election results makes for fascinating reading.

First, Alex Kane (‘UUP must find a way to deal with Alliance threat,’ May 6) reassures the UUP that all is not lost in Belfast, and the reduction to one MLA and two local councillors offers the party a wonderful opportunity to rebuild from the ground up.

Second, Sam McBride (‘A remarkable result, yet Northern Ireland has been in this place before’) provides a thorough analysis of the electoral outcome in Belfast, but carefully skirts around the elephant in the middle of the room.

On its own, Sinn Féin won more seats in Belfast (18) than all of the ‘designated Unionist’ parties combined (17).

Unionism appears to have retreated into its rural hinterland where its leaders are, and abandoned the major cities.

And lastly, collectively Unionists were elected to 206 seats (44 per cent) out of a total available of 462 seats.

This tally is down 32 seats on the 2014 total, which reflects a fall of some 13 per cent.

In some respects these statistics reflect recently published school census data indicating that, while the number of Roman Catholic pupils holds steady at some 50.7 per cent (175,617), the number of Protestant pupils has dramatically dropped to only 33 per cent (114,314).

As Unionism and Protestantism are traditionally interchangeable, this naturally suggests there will be a fall-off in the overall size of the Unionist electorate.

Unless they cast their nets wider, this indicates that all of the ‘designated Unionist’ parties are increasingly fishing in a dwindling Protestant electoral pool for Unionist votes, and are destined to correspondingly shrink in size with it.

As Sam McBride presciently observes: ‘The DUP is polling an increasing percentage of the unionist vote. But the total unionist vote is declining’.

Dr Bernard J. Mulholland, Malone Road BT9