The new Belfast City council will have a total of 60 members, elected from 10 electoral areas – called District Electoral areas or DEAs, as they are known.
Each DEA(herein-after called electoral area) will elect between 5-7 members, and the No. of seats for each electoral area is shown below. Here we provide an analysis of each of these electoral areas (or DEAs), and probable outcomes for the council election. Just to enable you to know where you are on the map, so to speak, we highlight what districts each electoral area includes. In terms of a forecast, we give our most probable outcome, but where there is a close second possible result, we detail this as a possible outcome. Where there isn’t any possible outcome, we’re pretty certain our main prediction is the correct one. However, as I said with our European election analysis last week, predicting elections is a risky business, and all this comes with the proverbial ‘health warning’, - we’ll know of course how accurate it turns out to be after the May 22.
In terms of our approach and methodology, the main input data to the projections are:
LucidTalk Northern Ireland (NI) -Wide polls from May 2012, November 2012, and September 2013, which were related to political party preference at NI Assembly elections. These individual poll results have been included in the modelling, along with the trends. The trends show how political party support has been growing, declining, or remaining the same over the 2012 to 2013 period.
Interviews with the 220 member LucidTalk Opinion Panel (balanced to reflect NI society), carried out in April 2014.
Previous Belfast City Council election results including vote transfer patterns.
Various weighting factors have been applied to all the polling data and research to reflect the structure of the forthcoming Belfast City Council election e.g. Party machine strength, Name-Profile of candidates, specific area strengths e.g. Alliance in East Belfast, Sin Fein in West Belfast etc..
All of the above data, research, and weighting factors were included within the LucidTalk computer models which then forecast the possible results for each party at the Belfast City Council elections.
However, before the analysis, some general observations:
Based on our analysis, it’s almost certain the next Belfast City Council will once again be a ‘Hung’ council, in that it will have no overall majority (like the current council), with Alliance and others holding the balance of power between the Unionist and Nationalist/Republican blocks. If you were into conspiracies you could say that those who designed the electoral boundaries for the new Belfast City council area wanted it this way!
According to our forecast, the meltdown of Alliance support because of the flags issue, as predicted by some Unionists, is not going to happen. Indeed this is already shown by the No’s of candidates the parties are fielding in key electoral areas. If Alliance were going to lose seats to non-middle ground parties (i.e. not to NI21, Green Party etc.) then some other party has to take those seats! The only party who could take advantage of this, in strong Alliance areas, is the DUP. However, the DUP are not running enough candidates in key Alliance areas in order to take advantage of any Alliance meltdown, suggesting that they too have calculated that this lowering of Alliance support hasn’t happened i.e. the DUP are just happy to consolidate their own seats in these areas. The only other party that could have taken advantage with any downturn in Alliance support is the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), but the UUP is now so decimated in Belfast in terms of organisation and support, that they’ve ended up running only 10 candidates, with a forecast from us that they will win only 4 seats – and we rate only two of these as good probable wins. This is indeed a pitiful situation for the UUP, taking into account the once mighty hold they used to have on Belfast City Hall.
Electoral Areas Analysis – 10 areas:
1. Collin Electoral area (6 seats on Belfast City Council):
Areas covered: Dunmurry, Ladybrook, Lagmore, Poleglass, Stewartstown and Twinbrook
This electoral area sort of mirrors the West Belfast seat at the assembly election i.e. 5 SF and 1 SDLP, and that is the way we predict it turning out for the council. This area is pure Sinn Fein heartland, Upper Falls, Poleglass, and Twinbrook with four new areas from Dunmurry adding to the republican and nationalist strength. Sinn Fein would like to capture all the six seats in this DEA, but we predict the SDLP should get one seat. It will be interesting how the one Éirígí candidate does here, but the Black Mountain electoral area is probably a better opportunity for them. Interesting to see the UUP are running a candidate here, but not the DUP. SF are running 5 candidates and we expect all 5 to be elected along with the SDLP who have enough support to guarantee a seat.
Prediction: 5 Sinn Fein, 1 SDLP.
2. Black Mountain (7 seats on Belfast City Council):
Areas covered: Andersonstown, Ballymurphy, Beechmount, Collin Glen, Falls Park, Shaw’s Road and Turf Lodge
This area is even stronger for Sinn Fein than Collin as it includes Glen Road, Falls Park, Glencolin and Andersonstown and most of the lower Falls i.e. Whiterock, Beechmount, and Upper Springfield. Sinn Fein have an almost certain 5 guaranteed seats with over 5 quotas, as registered at previous elections. However the SDLP should have over a quota here guaranteeing them at least one seat. As would be expected in an area like this, Anti-Agreement Republicans will target this DEA, and Eirigi should have 70% of a quota. However Eirigi are not particularly transfer friendly, and won’t get many transfers from SF and probably not from the SDLP either. If the SDLP could pick up transfers from Eirigi when they are (probably) eliminated, plus the transfers from Alliance and NI21 they could snatch a second seat. However, we go with the most probable outcome:
Prediction: 6 Sinn Fein, 1 SDLP.
3. Court (6 seats on Belfast City Council):
Areas covered: Ballygomartin, Clonard, Falls, Forth River, Shankill and Woodvale
The old Court electoral area used to be a solid unionist area, but this has been changed with the addition of the Clonard and Falls wards from Lower Falls. This changes the picture of the old Court area which was a hardcore loyalist area before. There are 3, probably 4 DUP seats here, which will probably include Frank McCoubrey, the former Independent Unionist and UDP member, now running for the DUP. The threat to this will come from the PUP as this is where Billy Hutchison is running i.e. it could be DUP-3, PUP-1, or DUP-4. However the PUP is running two candidates, which may not be the most efficient approach. The UUP are running a candidate, but this is not strong UUP territory. There are 2 Nationalist//Republican seats in Court, with one of these being a certainty for SF, the other could go to the SDLP, but this is a long-shot. In addition the SF electoral machine will help, and as such, we predict these 2 seats will therefore go to Sinn Fein.
Prediction: 4 DUP, 2 Sinn Fein. Possible: 4 DUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP
4. Oldpark (6 seats on Belfast City Council):
Areas covered: Ardoyne, Ballysillan, Cliftonville, Legoniel, New Lodge, and Water Works
This is the same area as the original Oldpark electoral area used for the current council. It includes Ardoyne, the Water Works, Ligoniel, Cliftonville, and the New Lodge. This again is strong nationalist territory. SF should gain 3 seats, and the DUP should win 2 seats, with the last seat being between the SDLP with their current councillor Nicola Mallon, and SF. We give the prediction to the SDLP for this one, but only narrowly. As such: Prediction: 3 Sinn Fein, 2 DUP, 1 SDLP. Possible: 4 SF, 2 DUP
5. Castle (6 seats on Belfast City Council):
Areas covered: Bellevue, Cavehill, Chichester Park, Duncairn, Fortwilliam and Innisfayle
This electoral area contains the overwhelming majority of the original Castle DEA. It remains evenly split and will see 2 quotas for each of the DUP and SF as well as a seat each for the SDLP and the UUP. The UUP has one of their 3 current City councillors here in David Browne who is running again, and he should hold his seat based on his local well-known name. The SDLP should have a seat here, and the remaining four seats should go 2 DUP, 2 SF. However it will be interesting to see how the middle ground parties Alliance and NI21 perform here, as if either is going to make a breakthrough in the North of Belfast then it’s going to be in this DEA. Up to now Alliance get all their councillors elected from East and South Belfast.
Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 Sinn Fein, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP.
6. Titanic (6 seats on Belfast City Council):
Areas covered: Ballymacarrett, Beersbridge, Bloomfield, Connswater, Sydenham and Woodstock
This is a new electoral area and takes in parts of the old Victoria DEA, including areas around Sydenham, and about 2/3 of the old Pottinger DEA, including Ballymacarrett, Woodstock, the Mount and Bloomfield. The Alliance party should be aiming for two seats here but our analysis shows that this is vulnerable, and they could drop to one seat, basically because the Ravenhill area – a stronghold for Alliance, has now been included in the Lisnasharragh electoral area. The DUP should gain 2 seats, helped by the fact that this is where former Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson is running, who is also strongly tipped to be the DUP’s candidate for next year’s Westminster election. Local GP, Dr. John Kyle should win a seat for the PUP, helped by his prominence on the current council. The UUP via Sonia Copeland, wife of MLA Michael Copeland, is in a good position to gain a seat. The last seat could be between the Alliance party, SF, and the third DUP candidate. SF have an advantage in that their candidate is former Mayor Niall O'Donghaile and they may win this last seat, taking into account that this electoral area includes all of Short Strand. However, we’re going with the analysis showing the Alliance party winning two seats (but only just), with the DUP also winning two seats, and one each for the PUP, and UUP.
Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 Alliance Party, 1 UUP, 1 PUP. Possible: 2 DUP, 1 Alliance Party, 1 UUP, 1 PUP, 1 Sinn Fein
7. Ormiston (7 seats on Belfast City Council):
Areas covered: Belmont, Garnerville, Gilnahirk, Knock, Sandown, Shandon and Stormont
This is Alliances strongest area in East Belfast, and is predominantly middle class, covering the majority of the old Victoria electoral area and Gilnahirk and Tullycarnet. Alliance are running a hefty four candidates here, and this is to be expected, as they’ll need to get a large chunk of votes in this area if they are to have any chance of holding the East Belfast seat at the next years Westminster election. Put it this way, they used to say South America was ‘Uncle Sams backyard’ well this is ‘Auntie Naomi Long’s backyard’. The Green Party’s European election candidate Ross Brown is running here, and his involvement in that bigger campaign will give him name recognition, which should boost his chances for a council seat. However, if he is going to win a seat here it will be at the expense of the Alliance party. It will be interesting to see if NI21 are going to make an impact here as this should be (in theory) a strong area for them. The TUV and PUP are running two strong local candidates and between them they should get close to a quota, with an outside chance of one of them gaining a seat. One of the UUP’s longest serving councillors Jim Rogers is running again here for the UUP, but it’s a puzzle in that the UUP are running two candidates as this could jeopardise their chance of one seat. We predict 3 DUP seats, 3 Alliance seats, with the last seat probably going to the UUP with help from the TUV and PUP transfers, although this is by no means certain.
Prediction: 3 DUP, 3 Alliance Party, 1 UUP. Possible: NI21 or Green Party at the expense of Alliance and/or the UUP.
8. Lisnasharragh (6 seats on Belfast City Council):
Areas covered: Cregagh, Hillfoot, Merok, Orangefield, Ravenhill and Rosetta
This is a new electoral area made up of Hillfoot, Wynchurch, Cregagh, Downshire, and the Lisnasharragh area itself, plus Orangefield and the strong Alliance areas of Ravenhill, and Rosetta. It’s majority unionist, with a strong Alliance presence as well. However, it has a nationalist vote, and this will ensure the SDLP gain a seat. There are three DUP candidates running, and they should comfortably get two elected. Long-standing and experienced councillor Michael Long (Husband of Naomi) is running here, and his name factor and council record should boost the Alliance vote enabling his election along with the second Alliance candidate, with help from transfers from the greens, NI21, and perhaps the SDLP surplus. The last seat will probably be fought out between the PUP, UUP, and one of the two NI21 candidates, and this is hard to call, however we’re giving it to the UUP in a ‘photo-finish’.
Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 Alliance Party, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP. – Possibly NI21 in place of Alliance or UUP.
9. Botanic (5 seats on Belfast City Council):
Areas covered: Blackstaff, Central, Ormeau, Stranmillis and Windsor
This area is centred around the university, and towards the city centre. It has a small nationalist republican majority which we’re projecting will result in two SDLP seats and one Sinn Fein seat. There is one safe seat for the Alliance party, who are running Duncan Morrow as a replacement for Catherine Curran who was the sitting Alliance councillor, but has decided not to run again. This is where Ruth Patterson– of Facebook comments fame, is running for the DUP, and her profile should ensure a seat for the DUP. It will be interesting to see how NI21 candidate Eileen Chan-Hu does here taking into account she’s Chief Executive of the Chinese Welfare Association. This area has a large Chinese and ethnic community, and because of this we’re projecting she will have an outside chance. The TUV candidate is Billy Dickson who has a strong local profile, and as such we give him an outside chance as well. If either NI21 or the TUV do gain a seat it will probably be at the expense of the second SDLP seat, although if this does fall, it may also go just as easily to the second Alliance candidate.
Prediction: 2 SDLP, 1 Alliance Party, 1 Sinn Fein, 1 DUP, with possible challenges from NI21 and the TUV, in place of the 2nd SDLP seat.
10. Balmoral (5 seats on Belfast City Council):
Areas covered: Belvoir, Finaghy, Malone, Musgrave and Upper Malone
This is another south of the city DEA, comprising areas including Upper Malone, Malone, Finaghy, Musgrave and Belvoir from the former Castlereagh council, which includes areas bordering Upper Malone, Stranmillis and Rosetta. There is a seat each for the SDLP and for SF, and on the unionist side there is a safe DUP seat which Deputy Mayor Christopher Stalford should capture. This electoral area is where NI21 European election candidate Tina McKenzie is also campaigning for a council seat. As with the Green party candidate in the Ormiston DEA, McKenzie’s NI-Wide Euro campaign should give her a profile, and I’ve received favourable reviews about her Billboard adverts around the city. These should help, and as such we are projecting her to gain a seat, at the expense of a second SDLP seat, but this will be tight. There should also be a safe seat for the Alliance party.
Prediction: 1 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 Alliance Party, 1 Sinn Fein, 1 NI21, with a possible alternative outcome of: 2 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 Alliance Party, 1 SF
So the final totals from the main prediction are (60 seats): 20 Sinn Fein, 17 DUP, 9 Alliance Party, 8 SDLP, 4 UUP, 1 PUP, 1 NI21.