Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Unionists 'could control six new super councils'

Nicholas Whyte runs the Northern Ireland elections website

Unionists could have a clear majority in six of the 11 new Northern Ireland super councils, an independent elections expert has calculated.

A repeat share-out of votes from the last local government election would put unionists in control of the merged authorities at Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon; Castlereagh and Lisburn; North Down and Ards; Mid/East Antrim; Antrim and Newtownabbey and Causeway Coast and Glens.

And based on the same extrapolation, nationalists would have a clear majority on four of the councils – Derry and Strabane; Fermanagh and Omagh; Mid-Ulster, and Newry, Mourne and Down.

There would, however, be a more even unionist/nationalist split on Belfast City Council with Alliance again holding the balance of power. Nationalists would have 27 seats, unionists 24 and the Alliance Party nine in the new 60-strong council, based on the share-out of votes in 2011.

Nicholas Whyte, who runs the Northern Ireland elections website, stressed the exercise was more of a baseline on which to judge the outcome of the local government poll on May 22.

"I emphasise that this is not about predicting the results of next month's elections; this is about establishing a baseline against which the election results can be measured," he said.

"For each of the 11 new districts, I have done my best to calculate an overall party vote based on the 2011 votes, and then to guesstimate the likely party strengths in each district, had those votes been cast on the new boundaries."

In an online discussion on the new council boundaries on the Slugger O'Toole website, Mr Whyte also rejected any allegations of gerrymandering – the unfair defining of voting areas to ensure a particular outcome in the elections.

"No matter how you draw boundaries for 'X' number of councils in Northern Ireland, with roughly equal population, you will find that you have a little over half of them with a unionist majority and the rest with a nationalist majority, and maybe one in the middle," he said.

"And given current electoral trends, that is going to put the DUP and SF in pole position.

"But that is because of the way people vote, not because of where the lines are drawn on the map.

"So allegations of gerrymandering, or indeed of a 'carve-up' from people who are still aggrieved that they got fewer votes in the last election, frankly go too far," he argued.

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