Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention Elections 1975

The 1975 Constitutional Convention was established to consider "what provisions for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there". The 78 members were elected on the same basis as the 1973 Assembly, with the same distribution of members among the 12 parliamentary seats.

The election produced a victory for the United Ulster Unionist Council, whose three component parties and an allied independent held 46 of the 78 seats. The report produced by the Convention inevitably reflected the UUUC policy, and was basically ignored by the rest of the world. The elections also revealed the weakness of Faulkner's own position within Unionism, as his Unionist Party of Northern Ireland won only five seats.

The most important political effect of the Convention was the disintegration of Vanguard. At one point in the proceedings in September 1975, William Craig, the leader of the Vanguard party, floated the idea of a voluntary coalition between Unionists and SDLP. This was too much for the majority of his party to take, and they broke away under deputy leader Ernest Baird to form the United Ulster Unionist Movement (UUUM), subsequently the UUUP. Craig and his new deputy leader, David Trimble, folded the remnants of Vanguard into the UUP shortly after.

Results summary

See spreadsheet archive.

[UUUC] [353,481 votes] [53.7%]
[46 seats]
UUP-UUUC 167,214 votes 25.4% +14.9% 19 seats +10
SDLP 156,049 votes
23.7%
+1.5% 17 seats -2
DUP-UUUC 97,073 votes 14.8% +4.0% 12 seats +4
VUPP-UUUC 83,507 votes 12.7% +2.2% 14 seats +7
Alliance 64,657 votes 9.8% +0.6% 8 seats n.c.
UPNI 50,891 votes 7.7% -17.6% 5 seats -19
Rep Clubs 14,515 votes 2.2% +0.4%

NILP 9,102 votes 1.4% -1.2% 1 seat n.c.
Ind Loy-UUUC 5,687 votes 0.9%
1 seat
Oth U's 4,453 votes 0.6%   1 seat -2
UUP (not UUUC) 2583 votes 0.4%
 
Independent 2052 votes 0.3%
 
Communists 378 votes 0.1% +0.1%  

Comparisons are with the Assembly election in 1973.
NB1: UUP-UUUC votes and seats in 1975 are compared with anti-White Paper UUP votes and seats in 1973. John Laird's 1973 votes are tallied with "Other Unionists" as his principal designation then was as a West Belfast Loyalist Coalition candidate, and Roy Bradford's 1975 votes are tallied separately, as he did not have UUUC endorsement.
NB2: UPNI votes and seats in 1975 are compared with pro-White Paper UUP candidates.
NB3: The West Belfast Loyalist Coalition votes and seats from 1973 are tallied with "Other Unionists" above, though two of the three WBLC Assembly members were (successful) UUP candidates in this election.

 

Analysis

The closest results were:

  1. Lord Brookeborough (UPNI) defeated Neil Oliver (UUP-UUUC) by 20 votes in North Down; the final margin was fractionally more than the total value of two UUUC undistributed surpluses which would have made the final result tighter still.
  2. David Allen (Vanguard-UUUC) defeated Adam Erwin (UUP-UUUC) by 48 votes in North Antrim
  3. Thomas Burns (DUP-UUUC) defeated Reginald Magee (UPNI) by 66 votes in South Belfast
  4. Hugh News (SDLP) defeated Paddy O'Hanlon (also SDLP) by 96 votes in Armagh, Magee having failed to attract sufficient Alliance and SDLP transfers
  5. Robert Overend (Vanguard-UUUC) defeated Aidan Larkin (SDLP) by 124 votes in Mid Ulster, Larkin having failed to attract sufficient Alliance and Republican Clubs transfers
  6. Hugh Smyth (Ind U-UUUC) defeated Desmond Gillespie (SDLP) by 179 votes in West Belfast

For the UUP this was a consolidation election. 19 seats (and two near misses) was sharply down from the combined total of both wings of the party in 1973, but still twice what the anti-White Paper faction had managed in that year and enough to be the biggest single party in both seats and votes.
The SDLP lost three seats despite actually increasing their percentage share of the vote. The increase was restricted to Belfast and counties Antrim and Down; in three of the other four constituencies their vote dropped sufficiently to lose a seat, in two cases very narrowly.
The DUP had a good election, though better balancing of candidates -and indeed a few more candidates - would have meant more seats.
Vanguard got a superb result, doubling from 7 to 14 seats on a share of the vote that should have got them only 8. They benefited from lousy balancing by their coalition partners, and also from a couple of lucky breaks. Of course, this was the peak from which they rapidly declined.
Alliance lost a seat in North Belfast and gained one in South Belfast.
The UPNI were essentially exposed as a busted flush by the election; with only five seats out of 78 in the Convention - indeed, only five out of 51 Unionist seats - they were not going to be key players in the future.
The Republican Clubs were never in contention in any constituency, and ran too many candidates.
The NILP was fortunate to hang on to their East Belfast seat, and came within a thousand votes in North Belfast.
Of the Other Unionists, Frank Millar Sr won in fissile North Belfast whose six Convention representatives represented five different political designations. Hughie Smyth, outside the UUUC, held his seat in West Belfast as an Independent Unionist.

The spirit of '73...

Women in the Convention election

Only four women (5.1% of the total membership) were elected to the Convention, Anne Dickson (UPNI, South Antrim), Eileen Paisley (DUP, East Belfast), Jean Coulter (UUP, West Belfast) and Shena Conn (UUP, Londonderry). All four had also been elected to the Assembly in 1973. Only seven of the 165 candidates (4.2%) were women; the three unsuccessful female candidates were Iris Agnew (UPNI, North Antrim), Kate Condy (Alliance, East Belfast) and Edith Goligher (DUP, West Belfast). East Belfast and West Belfast both had two women candidates of whom one was successful in each case, East Belfast had the higher number of first preferences (5091, 10.1%) but West Belfast the higher percentage (12.0%, on 4283 first preferences). The percentage of women candidates by party is as follows: UPNI 11.1%, DUP 11.1%, UUP 7.4%, Alliance 4.3%, and a big zero for the SDLP, Vanguard, NILP, Republican Clubs and Communists.

Constituency List

East Belfast (6 seats): 2 Vanguard-UUUC, 1 Alliance, 1 DUP-UUUC, 1 UPNI, 1 NILP
North Belfast (6 seats): 2 UUP-UUUC, 1 SDLP, 1 Ind Loy-UUUC, 1 DUP-UUUC, 1 UPNI
South Belfast (6 seats): 2 UUP-UUUC, 2 Alliance, 1 Vanguard-UUUC, 1 DUP-UUUC
West Belfast (6 seats): 2 SDLP, 2 UUP-UUUC, 1 Alliance, 1 Ind U
North Antrim (7 seats): 3 DUP-UUUC, 2 Vanguard-UUUC, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance
South Antrim (8 seats): 2 DUP-UUUC, 2 Vanguard-UUUC, 1 UUP-UUUC, 1 UPNI, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance
Armagh (7 seats): 2 SDLP, 2 UUP-UUUC, 2 Vanguard-UUUC, 1 DUP-UUUC
North Down (7 seats): 2 UUP-UUUC, 2 Alliance, 1 UPNI, 1 Vanguard-UUUC, 1 DUP-UUUC
South Down (7 seats): 3 SDLP, 2 UUP-UUUC, 1 Vanguard-UUUC, 1 UPNI
Fermanagh & South Tyrone (5 seats): 2 SDLP, 2 UUP-UUUC, 1 Vanguard-UUUC
Londonderry (7 seats): 3 SDLP, 2 UUP-UUUC, 1 Vanguard-UUUC, 1 DUP-UUUC
Mid-Ulster (6 seats): 2 SDLP, 2 UUP-UUUC, 1 DUP-UUUC, 1 Vanguard-UUUC


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@gmail.com.

Nicholas Whyte, 25 March 2003.


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