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North Down (constituency)
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North Down (constituency)

North Down is a Parliamentary Constituency in the House of Commons and also an Assembly constituency in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Table of contents
1 Boundaries
2 Westminster elections
3 Assemblies and Forum elections
4 Politics and History of the constituency

Boundaries

The seat was created in 1950 when the old Down two MP constituency was abolished as part of the final move to single member seats. Originally the seat consisted of most of the northern parts of County Down, with the north included in North Down. In 1983 the seat was radically cut down as part of an expansion of Northern Ireland's constituencies from 12 to 17. Significant parts of the constituency were transferred to either Strangford. In boundary changes proposed by a review in 1995, the seat exchanged territory with Strangford, losing one small section of Castlereagh and gaining a part of Ards.

The seat now contains the entirity of North Down district and Donaghadee in Ards

Proposed Boundary changes

At the time of writing the Boundary Commission has published provisional recommendations for modifying the boundaries of constituencies in Northern Ireland. No changes have been proposed for North Down. However the changes for other constituencies are likely to be subject to a public consultation review and it is possible that changes will be proposed, particularly as there have been some questions raised about the proposed changes to neighbouring Stranford.

Westminster elections

The Member of Parliament since the 2001 general election is Sylvia Hermon of the Ulster Unionist Party. She defeated Robert McCartney of the UK Unionist Party who had represented the seat since a 1995 by-election.

MPs since 1950

Assemblies and Forum elections

The six MLAs for the consituency elected in the 2003 election are:

In the 1998 election the six MLAs elected were:

Changes 1998-2003

In the 1996 election to the Northern Ireland Peace Forum, 5 Forum members were elected from North Down. They were as follows:

In 1982 elections were held for an Assembly for Northern Ireland to hold the Secretary of State to account, in the hope that this would be the first step towards restoring devolution. North Down elected 8 members as follows:

In 1975 elections were held to a Constitutional Convention which sought (unsuccessfully) to generate a consensus on the future of the province. The seven members elected from North Down were:

In 1973 elections were held to the Assembly set up under the Sunningdale Agreement. The seven members elected from North Down were:

Politics and History of the constituency

For the history of the constituency prior to 1950, see Down (constituency).

North Down is one of the most overwhelmingly unionist parts of the entire of Northern Ireland, with nationalist parties routinely getting no more than 6% of the vote if that. However it has arguably the most volatile and unpredictable politics of the entire province. Whereas elsewhere there are effectively three fundamental battles fought in elections - between the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party to be the leading unionist party, between the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Fein to be the leading nationalist party, and between unionism and nationalism as a whole, North Down is different. The lack of any substantial nationalist vote renders the last two battles immaterial. Of Northern Ireland's five main parties, only the Ulster Unionist Party and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland have historically had a significant organisation and support in the constituency, though the Democratic Unionist Party has recently started to gain a foothold where it hitherto was near non-existant.

In addition the constituency has seen many substantial votes for smaller party groupings and individuals. The Ulster Popular Unionist Party, the Conservative Party, the UK Unionist Party and the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition have all polled substantially in the last fifteen years, whilst in local council elections many independent candidates gain sufficient votes to be elected. The area is the heartland of numerous "one-man parties", of which the Ulster Popular Unionist Party and the UK Unionist Party are the best known but far from the only ones. There have been many examples of elected individuals changing party alleigance and often successfully defending their seats for the new party.

The constituency is the most propsperous in Northern Ireland and is widely considered to be the seat most similar to an English constituency. In part because of this the seat was the heartland of the Equal Citizenship campaign in the late 1980s which argued that the UK wide political parties should organise and contest elections in Northern Ireland, in the hope that this would "normalise" the politics of the province. The Conservative Party established itself (having in earlier years been in alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party until a breakdown in relations in the 1970s) and to date has been relatively strongest in North Down though in recent years its vote has declined heavily from the brief surge in the elections held between 1989 and 1992.

Traditionally levels of turnout in elections are very low by Northern Ireland standards, possibly because the lack of a serious threat of a nationalist victory removes the impetus to vote common elsewhere in the province. The one significant exception to the levels of turnout was the 1998 referendum on the Good Friday Agreement where turnout reached 80%, a total not come close to since 1921.

The parliamentary constituency was original held by the Ulster Unionist Party with no serious opposition. In 1970 James Kilfedder was first elected and he proceeded to accumulate a high level of personal popularity in the constituency. In 1977 he left the Ulster Unionists in protest over their increasing support for Enoch Powell's proposed policy of integration for Northern Ireland, rather than the restoration of devolved government. Standing as an independent Unionist, Kilfedder successfully defended his seat against a UUP challenge in the 1979 general election. The following year he formed the Ulster Popular Unionist Party, with a few local councillors being successfully elected on the label.

Kilfedder continued to hold his seat. Then in the 1987 general election he agreed a electoral pact with the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionist Party to form a united opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. However the local UUP candidate, Robert McCartney, was opposed to this pact and refused to withdraw. He was expelled from the UUP and so stood as a "Real Unionist" on a platform of complete integration for the province. Kilfedder retained the seat but with a reduced majority. As part of his platform for integration, McCartney had called for the major UK parties to organise and stand in the province and his result gave impetus to this campaign.

The Conservative Party did very well in the 1989 local elections for North Down Borough Council when they became the largest party. They stood candidates in several Northern Ireland constituencies in the 1992 general election, but their strongest prospect was expected to be North Down. Kilfedder by this stage was taking the Conservative whip at Westminster and so was aggrieved by this (and subsequently given a knighthood). In the event the result was similar to 1987, with the Conservatives getting a similar vote to McCartney.

Kilfedder died in 1995 and his loose Ulster Popular Unionist Party faded away even before the resulting by-election. By this time the Northern Ireland Conservatives had collapsed heavily and so there was much speculation about how the by-election would go. The Ulster Unionist Party were hopeful that they could retake the seat, but McCartney also stood, this time as a "UK Unionist" with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party. No candidate stood for the Popular Unionists or any nationalist party. There was a poor turnout in which McCartney won, with the Conservative vote collapsing from 32% to a humiliating 2.1%.

McCartney further established his UK Unionist Party and sought to challenge the existing unionist parties by offering a less sectarian alternative. He held his seat in the 1997 and was also elected to both the Northern Ireland Forum in 1996 and the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998, though on each occassion he was the only UK Unionist elected from North Down. In the 1998 election the Ulster Unionists had their strongest result in the province and there was much speculation that they could unseat McCartney at the next general election.

A rather public row erupted over the selection of the UUP's candidate. Initially the local assembly member Peter Weir was selected, but his opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and David Trimble's leadership became very prominent and a running source of embaressment to the party. Then Weir was deselected and the new candidate selected, Sylvia Hermon, was supportive of both Trimble and the Agreement. In the 2001 general election campaign the local branch of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland decided to withdraw their candidate when they felt that it would achieve their objectives better to support Hermon, who defeated McCartney overwhelmingly.

Weir remained as an Assembly member but subsequently defected to the Democratic Unionist Party. In the 2003 Assembly election Weir successfully defended his seat for the DUP, who also gained another MLA from the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition. It remains to be seen if this was a mere personal vote for Weir or a sign that the DUP is gaining a substantial foothold.

The next general election result is difficult to predict, though it seems probably that McCartney will not stand again. With the likely entry of candidates from both the Alliance and the DUP it is difficult to predict the outcome but many commentators expect Sylvia Hermon to retain her seat.