Election 2015: West Belfast

The Royal Victoria Hospital
The Royal Victoria Hospital

Republican strongholds do not come much more impregnable than west Belfast.

It has been held more-or-less consistently by Sinn Fein since 1983, when Gerry Adams won with 36.9 per cent of the vote.

It was the first appearance the IRA’s political arm had made on the electoral scene, and the party’s SDLP rivals have struggled to recover ever since.

Although the SDLP momentarily won the seat back in 1992, the party has seen the constituency slide ever-deeper into its rivals’ hands since 1997.

In that year, Adams won 55.9 per cent of the vote, to the SDLP’s 38.7 per cent.

By the time of the 2011 by-election, triggered by Gerry Adams’ decision to take up a seat in the Dail, the party’s Paul Maskey seized 70.6 per cent of the vote.

By contrast, the SDLP earned 13.5 per cent, and the DUP six per cent.

But a couple of things may affect Sinn Fein’s standing.

One is the shadow cast by Gerry Adams himself, given the tide of controversy which has engulfed the Sinn Fein stalwart in recent times.

This has ranged from the revelations about his incestuous brother Liam, to Mairia Cahill’s allegations about how the republican movement dealt with sex abuse claims, and more.

Could any of this affect the poll? “It hasn’t come up on the door as yet,” said Mr Maskey, who is standing again on May 7.

Another thing that could harm Sinn Fein is the emergence of the People Before Profit (PBP) party.

In its first outing in the 2011 by-election, its candidate Gerry Carroll won 7.6 per cent of the vote.

This seems a trifling amount compared to the landslide enjoyed by Sinn Fein, but Mr Carroll has since seized a seat in the Black Mountain ward in last year’s council elections.

If he has impressed voters over his last 12 months in office, he could eat into Sinn Fein’s vote in a bigger way.

What is more, the decision to sign up to a Stormont budget which is replete with spending cuts could harm Sinn Fein’s socialist credentials and allow Mr Carroll to swoop in and seize votes.

Sinn Fein also backed the Welfare Reform Bill, before ditching its support amid claims that it did not adequately protect those who would lose out under the new regime.

An Assembly report in May 2012 report found that 24 per cent of all residents in west Belfast claimed disability benefits — the highest rate in the Province.

When it comes to their welfare position, Mr Maskey said: “People are appreciative of the stance Sinn Fein have taken on that.

“That seems to have gone down well within the constituency.”

Asked what he would regard as a failure in terms of vote share, he said: “I wouldn’t second-guess the electorate.”

But barring some seismic political shift, on May 8 the constituency will still be in Sinn Fein hands – and that is as close to a certainty as anything in this election.

CANDIDATES (9)

ATTWOOD, Alex (SDLP)

CARROLL, Gerry (People Before Profit Alliance)

CATNEY, Gerard (Alliance)

HIGGINSON, Brian (Ukip)

LOWRY, John Terrence (The Workers Party)

MANWARING, Bill (UUP)

MASKEY, Paul (Sinn Fein)

MCCOUBREY, Frank (DUP)

SHEA, Paul Simon (Conservatives)

PAST RESULTS:

2011 Westminster by-election:

• Paul Maskey (Sinn Fein): 16,211

70.6%, down 0.5% on 2010

• Alex Attwood (SDLP): 3,088, 13.5%, down 2.9%

• G Carroll (PBP): 1,751, 7.6%

• Brian Kingston (DUP): 1,393

6.1%, down 1.5%

• Bill Manwaring (UUP): 386

1.7%, down 1.4%

• A McIntyre (Alliance): 122

0.5%, down 1.4%

Electorate: 61,441

Turnout: 37.5%

2010:

• G Adams (SF): 22,840, 71.1%, up 0.6%

• A Attwood (SDLP): 5,261, 16.4%, +1.8%

• William Humphrey (DUP): 2,436

7.6%, down 3%

• Bill Manwaring (UUP-Con): 1,000

3.1%, up 0.8%

• Maire Hendron (Alliance): 596, 1.9%

Electorate: 59,522

Turnout: 54.9%

2005:

• G Adams (Sinn Fein): 24,348, 70.5%

• Alex Attwood (SDLP): 5,033, 14.6%

• Diane Dodds (DUP): 3,652, 10.6%

• Chris McGimpsey (UUP): 779, 2.3%

• J Lowry (Workers Party): 432, 1.3%

• L Gilby (Vote for Yourself): 154, 0.4%

• Liam Kennedy (Ind.): 147, 0.4%

2001:

• G Adams (Sinn Fein): 27,096, 66.1%

• A Attwood (SDLP): 7,754, 18.9%

• Eric Smyth (DUP): 2,641, 6.4%

• Chris McGimpsey (UUP): 2,541, 6.2%

• J Lowry (Workers Party): 736, 1.8%

• D Kerr (Ulster Third Way): 116, 0.3%

• RG Weiss (Vote for Yourself): 98, 0.2%