The elections of May 30, 1996,
were for delegates to the peace talks
and to the Northern Ireland Forum which
ran in parallel with the two-year talks process. The very idea of holding elections
was controversial and is believed by some to have contributed to the resumption
of violence by the IRA in February of that year. Various options were considered,
including: a list system election with Northern Ireland as a single constituency;
an 'indexation' system, where the relationship between seats and votes would have
been non-linear; pairing off the new constituencies to make nine electoral districts;
and the old favourite of the single transferable vote in each parliamentary constituency.
The system eventually chosen for the May 30 Forum/talks elections included elements
of all of these. Each of the 18 new constituencies elected five representatives
from closed party lists using the d'Hondt formula. In addition, each of the ten
parties with the most votes across Northern Ireland elected another two representatives.
The total number of potential delegates/Forum members was thus 110.
This graph contrasts the
1996 elections with the elections for the Assembly in 1998, the Assembly in
1982, the Constitutional Convention in 1975 and the Assembly in 1973.
The results of the May 30,
1996 election were disappointing for the UUP, SDLP and Alliance, but very gratifying
for the other parties, in particular Sinn Fein. You can contrast the results
with those in other regional level elections here.
Each constituency can be examined in detail on the relevant page of this site;
the overall results were as follows:
28 + 2 = 30 seats
19 + 2 = 21 seats
22 + 2 = 24 seats
15 + 2 = 17 seats
5 + 2 = 7 seats
1 + 2 = 3 seats
2 top-up seats
2 top-up seats
2 top-up seats
2 top-up seats
Natural Law Party
Ulster Christian Democrats
This graphic shows the geographical
distribution of seats won in the elections.
The multi-party talks began
in June 1996 with only nine parties present as Sinn Fein were barred while the
IRA continued its campaign of violence. All parties were entitled to come to
meetings of the Forum but Sinn Fein never took up their seats. The SDLP withdrew
from the Forum, but remained at the talks, in July 1996. In July 1997 the renewed
IRA ceasefire enabled Sinn Fein to attend the talks; the DUP and UKUP promptly
withdrew from the talks and the UKUP withdrew from the Forum as well. In 1998
the UDP and Sinn Fein were both briefly suspended from the talks as a result
of breaches of the UDA and IRA ceasefires respectively.
The bare procedural summary
in the last paragraph comes nowhere near doing justice to the events of the
last few years. A good place to look for further information is the Irish Times'
Path to Peace
Although the DUP got fewer
votes than the SDLP they ended up with more seats, due to the way the two parties'
votes were geographically distributed.
Most of the smaller groups
or parties on the above list will not appear elsewhere so this may be the best
place to describe them:
Speaks for itself really.
Also stood in the 1990 Upper Bann by-election and the 1994 European Parliament
Was an all-Ireland party
with four members of the Dáil elected in 1997. In the 1998 Assembly elections
they supported the Labour candidates. Later in 1998 they merged with the Irish
Labour Party led by Ruari Quinn.
A well-intentioned movement
founded by former Peace People and NI Labour personalities, now defunct.
Led by a North Antrim
councillor but merged with the New Ireland Group which is vaguely nationalist
in a liberal sort of way. McMullan stood unsuccessfully for the Assembly in
1998 as an independent.
Led by a North Down
councillor, definitely Unionist in ethos. Chambers also stood unsuccessfully
Another small North
Down based grouping, now defunct.
Veteran South Antrim
Yet another small North
Down grouping, also stood unsuccessfully in 1998.
never die, they simply fade away.
Possibly more eccentric
than the Natural Law Party, wanted all churches to recognise the Northern
Irish state (a reference to the fact that the main churches are all organised
on an all-Ireland basis) and a Chief Rabbi for Northern Ireland to be employed
by the state to teach the Old Testament (to whom he would teach was never
made clear). Still have a website at http://ucdp.bizhosting.com/
The special nature of this
election required special legislation which listed those parties entitled to stand.
Apart from the above named, the list included two groups who were disqualified
for not putting forward enough candidates (the Northern Ireland Party,
yet another North Down eccentric, and Independent Patrick McCaffrey from
Fermanagh) and five who did not in the end put forward any candidates at all (the
British Ulster Unionist Party of Professor Kennedy Lindsay; Independent
Seamus Kerr of Omagh; Independent Brian McGrath also of Omagh; Independent
Ian Sinclair, yet another North Down figure; and No Going Back which
was a Trotskyite front whose members in the end backed Labour).
page has been developed with the support of a project grant from the New
Initiatives Fund of the Electoral Commission. However, any views expressed
on this page or, in particular, other pages of this website are those of
the author and not necessarily shared by The Electoral Commission.
Nicholas Whyte, 3 June 1998;
last updated 7 May 2003 by Tineke Vaes.