Belfast Telegraph

Nationalists to hold sway in Northern Ireland's second largest super council

By Noel McAdam

Nationalists will be in firm control of Northern Ireland's second largest super council after this month's elections, according to an election forecast.

Unionists will make up only a quarter of the seats on the new authority that combines Londonderry and Strabane – 10 out of 40, the analysis of political trends predicts.

The Belfast Telegraph's polling partner organisation LucidTalk has calculated that Sinn Fein will win 15 or 16 seats on Derry City and Strabane District Council, with the SDLP just behind it on 12- 14 seats.

The DUP is poised to take eight seats and Ulster Unionists just two, with independents or members of the smaller parties winning only one seat.

Direct comparisons with party performances in past elections are made more difficult because there are fewer seats on the new 11 authorities than on the existing 26 councils.

But this is less of the case with Derry and Strabane, because the combined total of the two separate bodies, 46, is being cut to just 40.

At the 2011 local government election in Derry, the SDLP had 14 seats, Sinn Fein 10, the DUP five and UUP one.

Strabane is one of NI's small councils with just 16 members. After the last election Sinn Fein had eight seats, the DUP four, the SDLP one, the UUP one, and there were two independents.

However Bill White, managing director of LucidTalk, counselled caution. "Unlike previous models and reviews in the Belfast Telegraph – for example the European election and the Belfast City Council election reviews – no weighting factors have been applied," he said.

"As such, the forecasts should be taken as indicative only, and are no more than a guide to the possible outcomes."

The LucidTalk analysis nonetheless underpins earlier predictions that unionists will control six councils following the May 22 poll, while nationalists will control four. Belfast is forecast to remain a 'hung' council, where Alliance holds the balance of power.

Independent elections expert Nicholas Whyte has calculated that a repeat of the 2011 voting patterns would put unionists in control of the new merged authorities in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon; Castlereagh and Lisburn; North Down and Ards; Mid and East Antrim; Antrim and Newtownabbey, and the Causeway Coast and Glens.

Nationalists would have a clear majority on four of the councils – Derry and Strabane; Fermanagh and Omagh; Mid Ulster, and Newry, Mourne and Down.

Mr Whyte said: "The scores on the doors are that six of the new 11 districts have a clear unionist majority, and in three of those six the DUP starts within a seat or two of having an outright majority.

"Four of the 11 have a clear nationalist majority, and I make Sinn Fein within spitting distance of a majority on their own in two of them, and the largest party in the other two.

"Belfast is more evenly split: I give nationalists 27, unionists 24 and the Alliance Party nine seats of the new 60-strong council, based on the 2011 votes."

But he added: "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."

LucidTalk has estimated that the total party seats will be: DUP 143-151; Sinn Fein 113-120; UUP 69-76; SDLP 60-75; Alliance 34-36; independents and others 23-29.

How pollsters made their predictions

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 May 22.

In terms of our approach and methodology, the predictions are possible forecasts as to how the party seat numbers may turn out for each council area. This is not meant to be scientific, and is just an indication to possible outcomes.

The 'possible' forecasts have been based on:

  • Interviews with the 220- member LucidTalk Opinion Panel (balanced to reflect society in Northern Ireland) carried out in April 2014.
  • Previous council election results mapped from the old council area into each of the new super council areas.

Unlike previous models and reviews in the Belfast Telegraph – such as the European election, and the Belfast City council election reviews – no weighting factors have been applied. As such, the forecasts should be taken as indicative only, and are no more than a guide to possible outcomes.

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