The 1995 North Down by-election

A personal account

It was Monday, 20 March, 1995. I was driving home after a night's canvassing for a local council by-election in Bangor, when I heard the news bulletin on Cool FM: the MP for North Down, Sir James Kilfedder, had died suddenly at the age of 67 in London, on his way from his constituency to Parliament. Kilfedder was the longest serving of the 17 Northern Ireland Westminster MP's. He had served for two years as the last Unionist MP for West Belfast in the 1960's, and then been elected as the Ulster Unionist MP for North Down in 1970. In the late 1970s he had become increasingly detached from the Ulster Unionist Party, antagonised by Enoch Powell's advocacy of integration rather than devolution, eventually leaving the party in 1977. In 1979 he had two good election results, easily keeping his own seat in North Down with one of the largest majorities in the country and finishing as runner-up in the first direct election to the European Parliament. Later that year he founded his own political party, the Ulster Popular Unionist Party, and a handful of supporters had held onto a few local council seats in County Down ever since.

He had been easily elected to the 1982-86 Assembly and as one of only two of its 78 members who were not in the big five parties (two of which never took their seats anyway) was elected as its speaker by the DUP and Alliance members over Ulster Unionist opposition. In the 1983 election he had seen off both the Alliance Party candidate, John Cushnahan, and the Ulster Unionist, Robert McCartney QC. In 1986 he and the other 14 Unionist MPs resigned their seats in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement and fought them again in the resulting by-elections; in a straight fight with Cushnahan, he had scored over 80% of the votes. In 1987, though, things got interesting as McCartney broke ranks with his party (all Unionists were supposed to be supporting each other as part of the continuing anti-Agreement campaign) and came within 4000 votes of victory, fighting as a "Real Unionist" on a platform of total integration of Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK. Cushnahan, by now leader of the Alliance Party, came third and resigned not long after, as it had become impossible for him to make a living from politics in Northern Ireland after the collapse of the 1982-86 Assembly (he was elected a member of the European Parliament from the Irish Republic in 1989 and is still there). North Down then became the hub of organisation for the Campaign for Equal Citizenship, which insisted that the only way to solve the Northern Ireland problem was for the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal/SDP Alliance to organise and fight elections in the Province. (More on this interesting idea below.) In the 1989 local council elections the Conservatives won six seats out of 25 on North Down council, making them the biggest single political group, and their main local figure, Dr Laurence Kennedy, was chosen as their Westminster candidate. Kilfedder was more than a little annoyed about this since he took the Conservative whip at Westminster and in fact had been more loyal to the Thatcher/Major government than many of its own backbenchers. In the event he slightly increased his majority in the 1992 election, Kennedy got a similar vote to McCartney's 1987 score, and the Alliance candidate, Addie Morrow, who had been Deputy Leader under Cushnahan, got a lower vote. Kilfedder received a knighthood later that year.

It had been generally expected that Kilfedder would retire at the next Westminster election. Now Fate had taken a hand. Was Fate helped? Kilfedder's homosexuality was one of the most public secrets in Northern Ireland politics. It was of course nobody's business but his own and I would not mention it here were it not for the following circumstances: on the evening of his death, the lead story in the Belfast Telegraph, Northern Ireland's main newspaper, was that a number of MPs including one (unnamed) from Northern Ireland had received letters from the gay rights campaign group Outrage! threatening to expose their sexuality if they did not support gay liberation issues in Parliament. Whether or not Kilfedder received one of these letters, he must have been deeply perturbed at the possibility that his sexuality might become a public issue - this was after all the era when the press had declared open season on the sexual peccadillos of Conservative MPs - and on the face of it, it does not seem improbable that this brought on his fatal heart attack.

This was not at the top of my mind as I drove home listening to the news. As Party Organiser for the Alliance Party, I was very aware that despite the disappointing 1992 result North Down was one of our best seats. It included the whole of the North Down Borough, a strip along the south shore of Belfast Lough stretching from Holywood (which is pronounced "Hollywood") to Groomsport, but mainly centred on the town of Bangor; and also the East electoral area of Castlereagh Borough Council, basically the town of Dundonald plus some suburban fringes on the east of Belfast which lie outside the City Council's administrative boundary. Along with East Belfast and (at that time) Strangford, the percentage of Catholics in the constituency was almost invisible to the census-taker; this had not stopped us from running Catholic candidates very successfully. North Down was also the richest of the then 17 constituencies and possibly had the oldest population as well. It consistently produced low turnouts in elections, especially in local council elections. Since the boundaries had been redrawn in 1983, the results of the parliamentary elections had been as follows:

1983 general election 66% turnout 1986 by-election 61% turnout 1987 general election 63% turnout 1992 general election 65% turnout
James Kilfedder (UPUP) 22861 (56%) James Kilfedder (UPUP) 30793 (79%) James Kilfedder (UPUP) 18420 (45%) James Kilfedder (UPUP) 19305 (43%)
John Cushnahan (Alliance) 9015 (22%) John Cushnahan (Alliance) 8066 (21%) Robert McCartney (Real Unionist) 14467 (35%) Laurence Kennedy (Conservative) 14371 (32%)
Robert McCartney (UUP) 8261 (20%) John Cushnahan (Alliance) 7932 (19%) Addie Morrow (Alliance) 6611 (15%)
Cathal Ó Baoill (SDLP) 645 (2%) Denny Vitty (DUP) 4414 (10%)
Andrew Wilmot (Natural Law Party) 255 (1%)

However this told only part of the story. Since then the Northern Ireland Conservatives had crashed and burned. In the 1993 local council elections they had scraped in on the last count in each of the four North Down council electoral areas. Their leader, Laurence Kennedy, had resigned his seat almost immediately afterwards; he had got another job in Glasgow and it was clear that the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland had peaked. We had narrowly won the ensuing local council by-election in Holywood. So those Conservative votes were looking for a new home; it seemed unlikely that the remnants of the North Down Tories would be able to keep a very large proportion of them (though in the event they did far worse than anyone had expected; see below). Likewise, Kilfedder had been the leader of a telephone-booth party - three local councillors had been elected on his ticket in 1993, two in the Abbey electoral district of North Down and one in Castlereagh East, but none of the three was obvious parliamentary material. So his votes were also up for grabs. We on the other hand had been (just) the largest single party in terms of votes in North Down Borough in 1993.


results from
1993 elections
North Down
North Down
Bangor West
North Down
North Down
Ballyholme and Groomsport
DUP 3100 (52%) 523 (12%) 1052 (19%) 813 (21%) 830 (14%)
UUP 534 (9%) 835 (19%) 1148 (20%) 607 (15%) 1119 (19%)
Kilfedderite 557 (9%) 1173 (30%)
Conservative 441 (7%) 528 (12%) 722 (13%) 368 (9%) 580 (10%)
Alliance 910 (15%) 1014 (23%) 1831 (33%) 611 (16%) 1064 (18%)
others 419 (7%) 1522 (34%) 853 (15%) 366 (9%) 1504 (25%)

It may seem odd that I have got this far into my account without mentioning the December 1993 Downing Street Declaration, the IRA ceasefire, which had been in place since August 1994, and the Loyalist ceasefire which had been in place since October. These momentous events had been followed by the publication by the British and Irish governments of the Framework Documents in February, and just the previous weekend the veteran Ulster Unionist MP, James Molyneux, had been re-elected leader of his party though a challenge by a 21-year-old rival candidate had got enough support to make Molyneaux look like a lame duck.

The fact is that in North Down these were only indirectly relevant. The IRA had bombed the main shopping areas in Bangor a couple of times, and there was some Loyalist paramilitary activity as well, but these were comparatively minor affairs by Northern Irish standards. The local political impact was not at all obvious. Sinn Féin had no organisation and as far as one could tell no members in the constituency (they had run candidates only twice since World War II, in 1955 getting the lowest share of the vote of any candidate in Northern Ireland and in 1959 doing slightly worse). The SDLP also had no organisation and in their one foray into North Down had fared about as well as had the Shinners thirty years before. It seemed most unlikely therefore that either Nationalist party would bother to contest the by-election. The Ulster Unionists of course had something to prove, in that they could fairly regard the North Down seat as naturally theirs but for the quirks of Kilfedder. It was difficult to read the DUP's likely moves: on the one hand their profile in the North Down borough was pretty low - they had got only three councillors elected in 1993, one of whom had since been imprisoned for extortion, causing the by-election I mentioned in the first paragraph; but on the other hand Castlereagh East was part of the jealously guarded fiefdom of Peter and Iris Robinson who between them almost controlled Castlereagh District Council.

But the real background factor in all this was Robert McCartney QC. He had been writing a regular series of articles in the Belfast Telegraph decrying the entire peace process as the first step in British disengagement from Northern Ireland, and had publicly flirted with the idea of standing in the European election in 1994. Although he had not been a candidate in 1992 he had nonetheless played a role in the eventual outcome: as Joe Hendron's barrister in the famous electoral court case over the election result in West Belfast, he had managed to persuade the judge not to penalise the SDLP for numerous well-documented violations of electoral law. McCartney was personally hostile to Molyneux and appeared to be itching for a chance to take up the moral and political leadership of Unionism. Ideologically he is firmly committed to the idea of integrating Northern Ireland into the UK, ie opposing any closer links with the Irish government or compromise with Nationalists. He has a particularly vicious line in invective (which livens up his otherwise exceptionally dull speeches). Before the news of Kilfedder's death, it seemed a fair bet that McCartney was preparing for a run at the North Down seat come the next general election. Now it seemed certain that his plans would be accelerated.

With all this in my mind, I phoned John Alderdice, the Alliance Party's leader, the moment I got home. He was going through constituency work with his assistant, Richard Good, and had not heard about Kilfedder's death; I had not read the Belfast Telegraph that evening. After we had got over our mutual shock, which took several minutes, we began to discuss possible Alliance candidates for the by-election. The final selection would be up to our members in North Down who could be relied on to make their own decision, so to an extent this was a theoretical exercise. But the first issue was, should John himself run as the Alliance candidate? His instinctive reaction was that he should not. Although he lived within half a mile of the constituency boundary, he had spent ten years building up a political base in East Belfast and felt that this would be put at risk by flirting with the voters of North Down. It would have been a different matter if the election looked winnable; but I knew that my most optimistic predictions gave us only 25% even in the low turnout elections in which North Down specialises, and that would require splits of an unprecedented evenness among at least four credible Unionist candidates for there to be the ghost of a chance.

John having ruled himself out, we discussed the others who would be likely to put their names before the North Down members. Brian Wilson, a long-term local councillor, was the obvious local candidate with an existing electoral base. Although Brian had some public profile and had served as Mayor in 1993-4, he might not be able to stand up to the likely aggression of Robert McCartney. There was an alternative: Sir Oliver Napier, who had been the leader of the Alliance Party from 1972 to 1984, had also lived in the constituency for many years. Oliver's previous electoral form had all been in East Belfast, which he had represented in the 1973-4 Assembly, the 1975-6 Constitutional Convention, and the 1982-6 Assembly. He had also been a Belfast city councillor from 1977 to 1989, and John Alderdice had inherited his seat. However he had in fact lived in Holywood for many years, and despite his long political experience was not yet 60, only a year older than McCartney whom he had had occasion to confront during the 1982-86 Assembly. Although Oliver had officially retired from politics, it seemed at least possible that we might entice him into one more contest.

The next day, I had a post-canvassing conversation with Derek Bell, Eileen's husband and one of Alliance's best organisers (although he does not suffer fools gladly). Derek was surprisingly upbeat about the prospects of our actually winning the seat, provided only that all the Unionist factions in play fielded candidates. McCartney and the UUP were both certain to be contenders, likewise the fading but still present North Down Conservatives; the DUP we had yet to hear from; Alan Chambers, an independent councillor from Groomsport on the eastern fringe of the constituency, was rumoured to be putting his hat in the ring; there was the possibility of the rump Kilfedderite organisation mounting a challenge to retain the late MP's heritage, given that he and McCartney had never got on well; and then there were the Loyalist political parties, now emerging blinking into the light as a result of the ceasefires, which had pockets of strength in the area. I had to admit that he had a point, if and only if all or most of these seven or eight factions decided to give North Down a try. (I have since been told by John Cushnahan that he had similar hopes in the 1983 election, when it had been expected that both the DUP and the ex-Vanguard leader Bill Craig would stand against Kilfedder on the new boundaries. In the end both groups stood down, but if Kilfedder's votes had been split fairly evenly between three candidates there would have been a fair chance for Alliance.)

Political life continued. The local council by-election took place on the Wednesday and the UUP won, though we were close enough to feel that we should win the next by-election in that area (as indeed we did). The next week we had to hold a special meeting of the party's central Executive to approve the nominating procedure for the parliamentary by-election, which basically meant approving the applications of both Brian Wilson and Sir Oliver Napier to be placed on the list of approved candidates. It was also John Alderdice's fortieth birthday so there was some further celebration. Not long after, the Alliance members in North Down met to select their candidate for the by-election and chose Oliver. (I have never really understood how Brian managed to be active in Alliance for so long without transforming his substantial personal vote into much of a loyal party base in his own area - he later left the party and is still an independent councillor.)

Robert McCartney soon declared himself as the candidate of the newly formed UK Unionist Party, and to our surprise gained at least tacit endorsement from the DUP even though the DUP's preferred solution for Northern Ireland was a restoration of something like the old Stormont regime, a concept which McCartney opposed almost as strongly as a United Ireland. We should have seen it coming. Although McCartney had launched his own political career in 1981 with a vitriolic attack on Ian Paisley, the peace process was pushing them closer together as opponents of any deal involving Sinn Féin and the Irish government (who tended to be linked by both McCartney and Paisley as elements of an organic whole, despite the plentiful evidence to the contrary). In addition, there was the local geography factor. The reasons why we did not want to run our very able councillor in Castlereagh East applied even more so to the DUP, who had got 4,414 votes in 1992, most of which must have come from Castlereagh East, where they got 3,100 votes in the 1993 council elections. Much better from their point of view to support a candidate who while personally obnoxious was politically on the same wavelength, rather than fight an election they would probably lose. (Their successful candidate in the Forum elections the next year came from not from the North Down Borough but from the area of Ards District which was added to the North Down constituency under the new boundaries.) It seemed to us risky from McCartney's point of view that he would undermine his own image of being an anti-sectarian Unionist by keeping this sort of company, but he probably reckoned that the gains offset the losses and he was probably right. Nothing was heard from the Loyalists, and the Kilfedderites just faded away - of the three remaining councillors, one joined McCartney's new party, one joined the DUP and one set up a new party called the Independent DUP which vanished almost as soon as it had been founded.

The UUP's North Down members surprised everyone by not choosing their most prominent East Belfast activist, Reg Empey. Instead the mantle fell on Alan McFarland, a former major in the Royal Tank Regiment who had subsequently worked as a parliamentary assistant to the UUP's MPs. No doubt we would have had to make similar calculations if John Alderdice had decided to stand and faced a contested selection meeting. McFarland was completely unknown outside his own party but was obviously an unexceptionable bloke. The Conservatives chose Stuart Sexton, an activist from Bolton, after early rumours that the prominent journalist Charles Moore would be their candidate. (Ironically Moore's father Richard had been the Liberal candidate for North Antrim in 1966 and 1970, and was subsequently political adviser to the Liberal members of the European parliament; I have since got to know him through our shared interest in both Northern Ireland and the Balkans.) Alan Chambers, the independent local councillor, also decided to see if he could improve on his tally of 1,892 votes in the 1993 local elections. (He did, but not by much.)

My own greatest contribution to the election campaign was to persuade the party to change from the election software we had been using (which I will name: it is called "Polly", and I had spent a frustrating couple of days in its company during an election campaign earlier in the year) to the one which Alliance has used ever since (which I will not name, as I understand this is still an operational issue), and then personally supervising the production of our direct mail literature. Richard Good and I also experimented with the use of residents surveys with some success, giving rise to many anecdotes which I used years later in political training sessions in the Balkans. Meantime we organised a successful Young Alliance visit to Dublin, and an unsuccessful local council by-election in South Belfast. I liaised with the National Democratic Institute over their next Northern Ireland programme (little dreaming that I would be working for them myself in Bosnia less than two years later); got elected a governor of the Linenhall Library, a private institution in Belfast which holds the best collection of Northern Irish political materials to be found anywhere; and also managed to secure a research fellowship for the coming academic year which would cover me after my grant ran out in the summer. I even did some academic work.

The campaign went as campaigns do. David Ford, Alliance's general secretary, was appointed the election agent. Our biggest problem would be to drag out our own vote; McCartney was aiming his fire mainly at the Unionists and they were responding in kind though less vigorously. Our poor result in 1992 meant that the media presented the Conservatives rather than us as the only serious alternatives to McCartney and the UUP, but there was not much to be done about that. More seriously, Oliver was portrayed as yesterday's man dragged out of retirement; this was hardly fair given the closeness in age between him and McCartney, and perhaps we could have done more to counter that perception. Oliver gave a couple of excellent speeches to internal party meetings, appealing for support; I particularly remember a vivid account he gave to the party conference of being questioned by the British army, while actually on his way home from a meeting in Downing Street in the early 1970s, and his trying to convince the squaddies "as I sat there in my underwear" that the Mr Heath mentioned in his diary was in fact the Prime Minister of the day. To a meeting of Alliance students he was more down-to-earth, admitting that the chances of winning this time were slim, but the odds were that McCartney would annoy enough of his own supporters before the next general election to give us a real chance then. My feeling from the doorsteps was that Oliver had a real personal vote in his home area, Holywood, and that he certainly would not lose us votes elsewhere in the constituency. Also we were the only party in the race that was unambiguously in favour of the peace process; we were participating fully in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin, and our councillors had a strong record of local action on the ground.

Apart from those I have already mentioned, three more candidates joined the fray. It was not surprising that the Natural Law Party nominated their leader in Northern Ireland, James Anderson. I still don't know why this group fought elections which they must have known they were going to lose and which they made no real effort to win; perhaps it was the attraction of the free mailshot to all electors, but they never even made the most of that. Anderson had stood in Mid-Ulster in 1992, getting a grand total of 64 votes; he had then been one of the NLP's three candidates in the 1994 European election, getting 1,418 votes, beating his two colleagues and three other candidates. Michael Alexander Boomer Brooks had just as strong an electoral record. He had been an independent Unionist candidate for the 1973 Assembly in East Belfast, getting 983 votes out of over 42,000 cast, and then excited some interest by running as an "Ulster Protestant" in Donegal in the 1987 Irish general election, against veteran republican Neil Blaney, where he got 696 votes out of 29,000 - at least his score was consistent at around 2.4%. This time round however he had chosen a single issue to campaign on. This was to demand the release of Paratrooper Lee Clegg, who while on a British Army patrol in 1990 was involved in a shooting incident in West Belfast in which two teenagers driving a stolen car were killed and a third seriously injured. I had myself got into some trouble for writing an article opposing Clegg's case in the Liberal Democrats' weekly party newspaper. As he has now been both released and acquitted I had better say no more. The final candidate was Christopher Carter, a taxi-driver with some rather original ideas about politics (which after all is a characteristic one tends to associate with taxi-drivers). I particularly remember his A3 posters printed in white-on-black ten-point lettering, posted twelve feet up a Bangor lamp-post, or better yet fixed firmly to the central reservation of the main road between Belfast and Bangor, past which motorists would travel at a minimum of 55 miles per hour.

The high point in the campaign came at the last moment. On the Tuesday night before the election we picked up rumours via our Liberal Democrat colleagues in Westminster that the Guardian was going to run a front page story with a major scoop about McCartney the next day. With no idea of what this could be (despite my best personal attempts to wring information from Michael White) we none the less invited journalists for a press conference first thing the next morning. The Guardian did not disappoint us; they had learned that McCartney proposed, if elected, to apply for the Labour whip in the House of Commons. In retrospect though we handled the press conference badly. First of all, only Oliver spoke; and because of British election law, the TV news bulletins could only show his picture without carrying his voice. We should have had John Alderdice speak as well. Second, I regret that Oliver chose to play the issue as a "Green scare" rather than a "Red scare". In Northern Ireland's richest constituency, where three quarters of the votes in 1992 had been cast for candidates committed to taking the Conservative whip, it would have been enough to draw attention to the potential then-not-quite-new Labour had for screwing up the economy. Instead he chose to emphasise Labour's declared policy in favour of a United Ireland. This was the wrong issue; Alliance is not a Unionist party and cannot credibly gain votes by attempting to undermine another candidate's Unionist credentials. Also Labour's Irish policy was visibly changing; Kevin McNamara, who was very closely associated with the SDLP, had been replaced as their Northern Ireland spokesman by Mo Mowlam the previous October as part of Tony Blair's reshaping the entire party into something electable. However it did give us the chance to put out a last-minute leaflet drawing attention to McCartney's inconsistency and history of switching support from one party to another.

I spent most of polling day, 15 June, with the Napiers' next-door neighbours who had provided our committee room in Holywood. My workers included the younger generation of the Napier family, which only led to a little friction; the turnout in each polling station indicated that in Holywood at least the right people had come out to vote. Come ten o'clock I jumped in the car and zoomed discreetly to the counting centre, a school in Newtownards. (Peter Osborne, coming from Castlereagh, was not so lucky and got a speeding ticket.) There I met a scene of some chaos. Although only a few of us had passes for the actual count, there seemed to be nobody checking us until the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland began to personally guard the doors of the school gym. I had prepared carefully for this part of the evening. Under British (and Irish) law, votes are not counted at any polling station; each ballot box is taken, sealed, to the counting centre and then opened and the ballot papers mixed into a general pile before they are sorted by candidate. However as each box is opened the counters have to ensure that the right number of ballot papers is in each one, and it is in this verification phase that the party agents - who as far as I remember included from our side David Ford, Brian Wilson, Peter Osborne, Stephen Farry and Gerry Lynch - get the chance to tally the papers in each box to get an idea of where the votes are coming from.

By midnight I had enough information from our tallymen to produce a prediction. Bob McCartney was certain to win, with about 37%. We had probably passed my 25% best-possible target and were actually vying for second place with the UUP on about 26% - my projection had us ahead of them, but by such a close margin that I knew I could not rely on it. Alan Chambers had surpassed everyone's expectations but his own and was on about 8%, having easily saved his deposit. The Conservatives on the other hand had collapsed even worse than anyone had expected. Because I was the only person in the building with the figures I found myself giving several impromptu press conferences and began to appreciate the value of having good information and having it first. My calculations (and they cannot have been too far off the true figures, which of course will never be known) gave the candidates the following levels of support in each Electoral Area - clearly Oliver had pulled out a strong Holywood vote and clearly also the DUP organisation in Castlereagh had largely delivered its vote for McCartney:

(Ind U)
Castlereagh East 4% 43% 28% 23%
Holywood 3% 34% 20% 40%
Bangor West 5% 37% 27% 28%
Bangor Abbey 9% 37% 28% 21%
Ballyholme and Groomsport 14% 33% 24% 25%

The count dragged on for another couple of hours, and tempers started to fray; at one point a McCartney supporter almost punched me when I disagreed with his proposition that a vote for McCartney was a vote for left-right politics in Northern Ireland. Eventually the candidates mounted the platform to be advised of the real figures, and watching Oliver's body language I felt a stab of disappointment as he failed to react positively. Obviously we had been pushed into third place, though I knew it could not have been by much. The returning officer announced the final result. The turnout was truly dismal, at only 33.8% of the electorate, almost exactly what Eileen Bell had predicted the previous evening. The results for each candidate were:

Bob McCartney UK Unionist Party 10124 37%
Alan McFarland Ulster Unionist Party 7232 26.4%
Sir Oliver Napier Alliance 6970 25.4%
Alan Chambers Independent Unionist 2170 7.9%
Stuart Sexton Conservative 583 2.1%
Michael Brooks Free Para Lee Clegg 109 0.4%
Christopher Carter Ulster's Independent Voice 101 0.4%
James Anderson Natural Law Party 100 0.4%

We had still done better than my best-case scenario, and come within 262 votes of humiliating the Ulster Unionists. It was all over bar the shouting. Anderson gave a rather unexciting speech about the power of the Natural Law; Carter had already left in disgust; Brooks, who was wearing a large "Free Lee Clegg" medallion, caused considerable amusement when he was unable to remember Clegg's name while making his concession speech. Oliver gave a good "I'm back and fighting to win" speech, and then McFarland and McCartney were heckled by all but their own respective supporters. As we left the counting centre in muted jubilation, Oliver waved goodbye to us and shouted "Tiocfaidh ar lá!"

The result was widely seen as the trigger for James Molyneux's resignation and the election of David Trimble as leader of the UUP. In the Forum elections in 1996, held on the new boundaries, McCartney's vote slumped by almost exactly the DUP's vote share and he was beaten by the UUP. Our vote however fell also. McCartney, McFarland and Sir Oliver were all elected to the Forum. In the 1997 Westminster election Oliver (in probably his last campaign) hit our natural base of 21% and McFarland came within 1500 votes of beating McCartney. In the 1998 Assembly elections we got Eileen Bell elected but lost votes to the Women's Coalition, who unexpectedly won a seat. McCartney failed to bring in any fellow members of his party in North Down and although he did get four party colleagues elected in other constituencies they abandoned him before much time had passed. McFarland on the other hand brought in two running-mates. In the 2001 general election, Alliance's Stephen Farry withdrew in favour of the UUP's new candidate, Lady Sylvia Hermon, who heavily defeated McCartney.

Nicholas Whyte, 13 March 2000; last modified 16 June 2001

Were you involved in campaigning in North Down in 1995 - or any other time - for Alliance or for any other party? Let me know!

Postscript on integration and "Equal Citizenship"

I never bought the idea that the solution to the Northern Ireland problem would be attained if only the British mainland parties were to fight elections there, and the more I looked into it the less convinced I was. In the 1960s, the Ulster Unionists were an organic part of the Conservative Party, the Ulster Liberal Party was an organic part of the British Liberal Party, and the Northern Ireland Labour Party, while not quite so firmly linked to the British Labour Party, was nevertheless so close that nobody could see the difference. This did not prevent the violence from erupting at the end of the decade. I was also only partially convinced by the argument that the people of Northern Ireland were deprived of their human rights by being unable to vote for a potential party of government. Kilfedder, as noted above, took the Tory whip, and they were frankly the only potential party of government for most of the '80s and '90s. To me any political party is a voluntary organisation which has the right to deploy its resources, including candidates, as it sees fit. In any case this complaint clearly no longer applies to the Conservatives (even if their result in North Down in 1995 was the worst of any Conservative candidate in a UK parliamentary election since 1918). The Liberal Democrats, and their predecessor parties, have had a policy of endorsing Alliance candidates, and this has been driven at least as much by the wishes of the few Lib Dem party members in Northern Ireland as by headquarters in London. While there is of course scope for this relationship to change, and my gut feeling has always been that a closer relationship would be a good thing, it's more a question of what the memberships of Alliance and the Lib Dems want rather than of the human rights of the citizens of Northern Ireland. Only Labour in my view has a serious case to answer here; Northern Ireland is currently the only place in the world whose residents are barred from membership of the Labour Party by its own rules, and including the SDLP's MPs in the Labour whip is not really the same thing. However, it is a matter for Labour to sort out themselves. I simply do not buy the integrationist analysis, because it basically leads to the absurd proposition that the whole conflict was triggered and continued past 1992 because people were unable to vote for the British Labour Party.

However. I am becoming more and more aware (partly because my day job these days looks at similar issues in the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Baltic) of the post-modern aspects of the Agreement with respect to British and Irish sovereignty in Northern Ireland. It seems to me appropriate that we should start to look at the "equal citizenship" arguments as they apply to the relationship between the Northern Irish citizen and the Irish Republic. I don't think we are yet at the stage where Northern Ireland should elect members of the Dáil, but what about votes for all electors in Ireland in Irish Presidential elections, or reserved seats for Northerners in the Irish Senate (institutionalising a recent voluntary practice of successive Taoisigh)? But this is an issue for another day.

See also: North Down election results since 1996 | North Down election results from 1983 to 1995 | North Down local government election results

Results from 1996 to 2001 for each seat: East Belfast | North Belfast | South Belfast | West Belfast | East Antrim | North Antrim | South Antrim | North Down | South Down | Fermanagh and South Tyrone | Foyle | Lagan Valley | East Londonderry | Mid Ulster | Newry and Armagh | Strangford | Upper Bann

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

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