General Election 2017: Will PBP challenge in West Belfast recede?

St Peter's Cathedral, West Belfast
St Peter's Cathedral, West Belfast

West Belfast was a marginal seat in the 1980s and ‘90s, between the SDLP, Sinn Fein, and – at the beginning of the period – Gerry Fitt too (who lost his seat in 1983 to Gerry Adams).

In a major psychological blow to Sinn Fein, Mr Adams later lost the constituency to his long-time SDLP challenger Joe Hendron in 1992, partly with the help of votes from the loyalist Shankill Road.

The IRA ceasefire of 1994, (which was breached in 1996) helped put Sinn Fein back comfortably in front by 1997, after which the second ceasefire and Belfast Agreement turned the constituency super-safe for republicans.

By the 2001 general election Mr Adams was a hefty 20,000 votes in front of his then-SDLP challenger Alex Attwood.

The latter party has now fallen so far behind in West Belfast that last year Mr Attwood actually lost his Stormont seat there – one he had held for almost 20 years.

Despite Sinn Fein’s consolidation in West Belfast, the party had a scare in its heartland in 2015 and last year.

People Before Profit (PBP) candidate Gerry Carroll came from almost nowhere to win 7,000 votes in the 2015 Westminster election (he had polled 1,750 five years earlier).

When leftist Mr Carroll topped the Stormont election in the constituency last year, Sinn Fein appeared to be in trouble in West Belfast. Its overall vote was still far ahead of any other party but even so the party seemed shaken.

There is a theory that the rise of PBP contributed to the decision to collapse the executive, to make Sinn Fein look radical. If so, the tactic paid dividends in March when PBP’s vote fell back.

Other parties will barely feature in this seat. The combined unionist vote is small. The Workers’ Party tend to get hundreds of votes in West Belfast, as do Alliance.

Candidates for 2017:

• Tim Atwood, SDLP

• Conor Campbell, Workers’ Party

• Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit Alliance

• Sorcha Eastwood, Alliance

• Paul Maskey, Sinn Fein

• Frank McCoubrey, DUP

2015 general election:

Paul Maskey (SF): 19,163 (54.2%)

G Carroll (PBP): 6,798 (19.2%)

A Attwood (SDLP): 3,475 (9.8%)

F McCoubrey (DUP):2,773 (7.8%)

B Manwaring(UUP):1,088 (3.1%)

B Higginson (UKIP): 765 (2.2%)

G Catney (Alliance): 636 (1.8%)

J Lowry (WP): 597 (1.7%)

P Shea (Cons.): 34 (0.1%)

Electorate: 62,697

Turnout: 35,610 (56.8%)

Combined unionist vote: 13.1%

2010 general election:

Gerry Adams (SF): 22,840 (71.1%)

A Attwood (SDLP): 5,261 (16.4%)

W Humphrey (DUP): 2,436 (7.6%)

B Manwaring (Ulster Cons. and Unionist): 1,000 (3.1%)

M Hendron (Alliance): 596 (1.9%)

Electorate: 59,522

Turnout: 32,682 (54.9%)

Combined unionist vote: 10.7%