Northern Ireland Assembly Elections 1982

The 1982-86 Northern Ireland Assembly was set up as yet another attempt to shift the political deadlock that had lasted since the fall of the power-sharing Executive in 1974 (see the White Paper on which the legislation was based). The Assembly had powers of scrutiny over the government ministers, but the ministers themselves remained appointees of the Westminster government. The scrutiny aspect worked well and in my view could be usefully adopted in other parts of the world.

There was provision for the Assembly to have power devolved to it if there was sufficient evidence that it could be sustainable, but with the SDLP and Sinn Féin boycotting from the start, and the UUP participating only intermittently, that did not happen. After the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed in November 1985 the Assembly became a forum for Unionists to bash government policy and it was Alliance's turn to boycott it for the last few months of its existence.

The Assembly elections on 20 October 1982 definitively established the five-party system which has endured since. Sinn Féin, in their first electoral contest, established themselves as representatives of a key section of the electorate. The Workers Party and UUUP failed to make the breakthrough that would have made them serious players. And the UUP re-established a dominant position in the Unionist community, winning more than half of all Unionist votes for the first time since the fall of Stormont.

These elections were the last full elections held on the boundaries that had been set at the end of 1970, and which had not been originally intended for multi-seat elections. The electorate of some constituencies had changed dramatically in the meantime, and so West Belfast lost two seats, North and South Belfast lost one each, North Antrim and North Down gained one seat each and South Antrim gained two. There were three by-elections for the Assembly during its term, all won by the UUP. The Speaker of the Assembly was North Down MP and Assembly member James Kilfedder.

Results summary

See spreadsheet archive.

UUP 188,277 votes 29.7% +3.9% 26 seats +7
DUP 145,528 votes 23.0% +8.2% 21 seats +9
SDLP 118,891 votes
-4.9% 14 seats -3
SF 64,191 votes 10.1% +10.1% 5 seats +5
Alliance 58,851 votes 9.3% -0.5% 10 seats +2
WP 17,216 votes 2.7% +0.5%    
UPUP 14,916 votes 2.3%   1 seat +1
UUUP 11,550 votes 1.8% (-10.9%)   (-14)
Oth U's 9,567 votes 1.5%
1 seat (-6)
Ind SDLP 1,180 votes 0.2%
Independent 745 votes 0.1%
Ecology 707 votes 0.1%
Labour 560 votes 0.1% (-1.3%)   (-1)
People's Democracy 442 votes 0.1%
Communists 415 votes 0.1% (n.c.)  
Liberal 65 votes 0.01%
Peace 19 votes 0.003%

Comparisons are with the Constitutional Convention election in 1975.
NB1: UUUP votes and seats in 1982 are compared with Vanguard in 1975 - former Vanguard leader Bill Craig also stood as "Vanguard" in East Belfast in 1982, getting 2,274 votes, 0.4% of the Northern Ireland total, but he is tallied with Other Unionists here.
NB2: UPNI seats in 1975 are tallied with Other Unionists here.
NB3: "Labour" in 1982 refers to Newtownabbey Labour candidate in South Antrim, but to NILP in 1975. The sole Independent candidate in 1982 was also a former NILP Stormont MP.



The closest results were:

  1. William Bleakes (UUP) defeated George Green (UPUP) by 6 votes in North Down.
  2. Paul Maguire (Alliance) defeated Joe Austin (SF) by 184 votes in North Belfast (with some votes undistributed which would have made the final margin wider)
  3. Will Glendinning (Alliance) defeated William Dickson (DUP) by 244 votes in West Belfast
  4. Hugh News (SDLP) defeated Paddy O'Hanlon (also SDLP) by 318 votes in Armagh
  5. Gordon Mawhinney (Alliance) defeated Frank Millar jr (UUP) by 449 votes in South Antrim

The UUP had a good election. They had one near miss in South Antrim but two lucky strikes in North Down and South Belfast. More importantly, they had the votes they needed, an important morale boost after the failures of the European election in 1979 and the local council elections in 1981. Their seven gains came from three seats won by UPNI in 1975 and four won by Vanguard - two seats were lost and two gained from the changes in constituency sizes.
The DUP may have hoped for better, given those same recent elections, but still achieved the best seat bonus of any party, with 23.0% of the votes getting them 26.9% of the seats. They made eight gains from Vanguard and one from the UPNI.
The SDLP lost a further three seats compared to 1975, and were in fact the only one of the major parties to lose seats. They promptly lost another one after the election when Séamus Mallon was unseated because he had been a member of the Irish Senate at the time of the election.
Sinn Féin scored the propaganda coup of Gerry Adams being the first candidate to be declared elected to the Assembly, but did not do well at translating seats into votes, with two narrow misses to Alliance in North and West Belfast and another to the DUP in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. In two of those three cases better balancing between the SF candidates would probably have secured an extra seat. All five of the Sinn Féin seats had been won by the SDLP in 1973, though two had been lost to Unionists in 1975.
Alliance was very lucky to get ten seats; a shift of fewer than 900 votes would have put the party level with SF on seven seats each with one extra for the UUP. The Alliance gains were from UPNI and NILP compared with 1975, with one seat lost and another gained through the changes in constituency sizes.
Luck ran the other way for the Workers Party. In their two strongest seats they were just a few hundred votes behind Alliance candidates who got elected effectively with WP transfers.
The UUUP were not unlucky in terms of votes translating to seats; they simply didn't have enough votes in the first place, and none of their candidates came within a thousand votes of getting elected. William Craig, standing as Vanguard, came closer in East Belfast, but was still short of the mark.
Of the Other Unionists, Frank Millar Sr held his 1975 seat in North Belfast largely due to lousy balancing by the UUP and DUP, whose second runners came within 300 and 500 votes respectively of knocking him out. Jim Kilfedder managed to score a resounding 2.3 quotas for the UPUP in North Down, but this was a personal not a party vote; his running mate failed (just) to get elected. Kilfedder's seat was effectively the new one in North Down. Hughie Smyth, standing for the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party in West Belfast, got a little more than a third of his first preferences from 1975 and in any case was hampered by the constituency being reduced from six seats to four, with a consequent loss of two Unionist seats.

The spirit of '75...

None of the Sinn Féin, People's Democracy, Ecology, Communist, Liberal or Peace candidates had stood in 1975.

Women in the Assembly election

Only three women (3.8% of the total membership) were elected to the Assembly in 1982, Muriel Simpson (UUP, Armagh), Dorothy Dunlop (UUP, East Belfast) and Mary McSorley (SDLP, Mid Ulster). Only nine of the 184 candidates (4.9%) were women; the six unsuccessful female candidates were Ethel Smyth (DUP, South Down), Hazel Bradford (UUP, North Down), Joan Tomlin (Alliance, South Antrim), Ita Breen (Alliance, Londonderry), Mary McMahon (WP, West Belfast), and Mary Muldoon (SDLP, West Belfast). The constituency with the highest first preference vote share for female candidates was the only one with two women standing, West Belfast (3,509 - 10.1%) though Mary McSorley got more votes in a larger constituency (4,169 - 6.7%). The percentage of women candidates by party is as follows: Alliance 10.0%, WP 8.3%, UUP 7.1%, SDLP 6.9%, DUP 2.9%, and a big zero for Sinn Féin, UUUP, UPUP, Ecology, People's Democracy and the Communist Party.

Constituency List

East Belfast (6 seats): 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 2 Alliance
North Belfast (5 seats): 1 UUP, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance, 1 Ind U
South Belfast (5 seats): 3 UUP, 1 Alliance, 1 DUP
West Belfast (4 seats): 1 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance
North Antrim (8 seats): 4 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance
South Antrim (10 seats): 4 UUP, 3 DUP, 2 Alliance, 1 SDLP
Armagh (7 seats): 3 UUP, 2 SDLP, 1 SF, 1 DUP
North Down (8 seats): 3 UUP, 2 DUP, 2 Alliance, 1 UPUP
South Down (7 seats): 3 SDLP, 2 UUP, 2 DUP
Fermanagh & South Tyrone (5 seats): 2 UUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP
Londonderry (7 seats): 2 SDLP, 2 UUP, 2 DUP, 1 SF
Mid-Ulster (6 seats): 2 SDLP, 2 DUP, 1 SF, 1 UUP

See also:

Results from 1973 to 1982 for each seat: East Belfast | North Belfast | South Belfast | West Belfast | North Antrim | South Antrim | Armagh | North Down | South Down | Fermanagh and South Tyrone | Londonderry | Mid Ulster

Other sites based at ARK: ORB (Online Research Bank) | CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) | Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey

Your comments, please! Send an email to me at

Nicholas Whyte, 25 March 2003.

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Disclaimer:© Nicholas Whyte 1998-2004 Last Updated on Wednesday, 12-Jan-2005 12:12