Election 2015: North Belfast

The Waterworks in North Belfast
The Waterworks in North Belfast

North Belfast is a marginal constituency which could soon break with its unionist roots in a radical way, welcoming in a tough-talking republican ex-convict.

It has been in staunch unionist hands of one kind or another throughout almost the whole of the 20th century - be it the Conservative Party, DUP or the UUP.

The one exception to this was when the former Ulster Unionist MP Stratton Mills left his party and joined the Alliance Party.

The Ulster Unionists immediately regained control at the next election in 1974, and — barring a short-lived loss to the DUP in 1979 — held the seat right up until present incumbent Nigel Dodds dramatically seized it in 2001.

It was a stunning victory in which the aging Ulster Unionist incumbent, Cecil Walker, fell apart in a pre-election television debate.

At the time, Mr Dodds won a convincing 40.8 per cent share of the vote (compared with the UUP’s 12 per cent).

Since then, the UUP vote has evaporated yet further, registering a mere 4.9 per cent of the vote in 2005 (against the DUP’s 45.6 per cent), and 7.7 per cent in 2010 as part of the UUP’s pact with the Conservative Party (against the DUP’s 40 per cent).

There was little sign of the UUP regaining a foothold on the north of the capital city during either the 2011 Assembly elections or last year’s council poll.

Instead, the DUP’s grip is threatened by Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly.

The former IRA bomber, who was also a participant in a violent jailbreak in 1983, is now one of six MLAs for North Belfast (the others being another Sinn Fein MLA, one SDLP, and three DUP).

His stock has been steadily rising for years, having stood at 20 per cent of the vote in the 1997 elections, then 25.2 per cent in 2001, 28.6 per cent in 2005 and 34 per cent in 2010.

There is now a real possibility that he could be the next MP (although, in line with Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy, he would not take his seat if voters were to elect him to Parliament).

The UUP candidate five years ago, Fred Cobain, has since defected to the DUP.

Since then, the party has recruited the young former Royal Irish Regiment soldier Andy Allen — who was seriously injured in Afghanistan — as its representative in the north of the city.

But, given the growing electoral threat from Mr Kelly, the UUP agreed to stand aside from this year’s contest, rather than field a candidate with no hope of winning but who would only serve to split the unionist vote.

A quick look at the demographics of the area reveal that the battle to keep the north of the city in unionist hands is becoming an increasingly tough one: a recent Assembly report showed the proportion of the population who are Catholics (or were raised as such) had grown from 44 per cent in 2001 to 46.9 per cent in 2011.

Meanwhile, the proportion of those who are Protestants and other Christians (or were raised as such) fell from 52.7 per cent to 45.7 per cent over the same period.

The biggest growth was in those who stated they possessed or had grown up with “no religion” — from 2.9 per cent to 6.4 per cent.

This group’s voting intentions will naturally be somewhat harder to predict than those falling into the traditional Protestant/Catholic camps.

In addition, the constituency has the second-highest rate of disability claimants in the Province (21.2 per cent of its population in 2013), the third-highest jobless claimant count (8.5 per cent in 2012), and the lowest rate of residents going on to higher education (3.6 per cent as of 2011/12).

Asked what the main issues residents had raised with him were, Mr Dodds said: “The first thing is they want to keep a working MP in Westminster. The alternative is the seat falls into the hands of an abstentionist Republican who won’t take his seat.

“They want North Belfast’s voice to be heard at Westminster.”

The DUP deputy leader, who will be heavily involved in any post-election negotiations in a hung Parliament if he is elected, said he was pushing “very strongly” for more jobs, more housebuilding, and investment in schools.

Asked if the decision to push through changes to the welfare system risked hurting the DUP vote, he said the opposite was true. He said that they had voted against the worst elements of the changes in Westminster, and that Sinn Fein’s tough anti-reform stance “is costing £2m per week”.

Questioned about whether the electoral pact with the UUP could see frustrated moderate unionists turn their backs on the party, opting instead for the Alliance, he said: “What we’re finding on the doorsteps in North Belfast, time and again, people say it’s good to see unionists getting their act together.”

Mr Dodds added: “We’ve had a very warm response to that, certainly in North Belfast.”


DODDS, Nigel Alexander (DUP)

HUGHES, Fra (Independent)

KELLY, Gerry (Sinn Fein)


O’NEILL, Jason (Alliance)

WEIR, Gemma (The Workers Party)



• Nigel Dodds (DUP): 14,812

40%; down by 5.6%

• G Kelly (SF): 12,588

34%, up by 5.4%

• Alban Maginness (SDLP): 4,544

12.3%, down by 3.9%

• F Cobain (UUP-Con): 2,837

7.7%, +0.6%

• W Webb (Alliance): 1,809

4.9% +3.5%

• Martin McAuley (Ind): 403


Electorate: 65,504

Turnout: 56.8%


• Nigel Dodds (DUP): 13,935, 45.6%

• Gerry Kelly (Sinn Fein): 8,747, 28.6%

• Alban Maginness (SDLP): 4,950, 16.2%

• Fred Cobain (UUP): 2,154, 7.1%

• Marjorie Hawkins (Alliance): 438, 1.4%

• Marcella Delaney (Workers Party): 165, 0.5%

• Lynda Gilby (Vote for Yourself): 151, 0.5%


• Nigel Dodds (DUP): 16,718, 40.8%

• Gerry Kelly (Sinn Fein): 10,331, 25.2%

• Alban Maginness (SDLP): 8,592, 21%

• Cecil Walker (UUP): 4,904, 12%

• Marcella Delaney (Workers Party): 253, 0.6 %

• Rainbow George Weiss (Vote for Yourself): 134, 0.3%