East Belfast 1950-1970

map results graph
Map and diagram by Conal Kelly

Established in 1920, this constituency consists of the eastern quarter of the city of Belfast. Between 1950 and 1970 the constituency was represented by two different MPs, both of whom were Unionist. The longest serving of these was Stanley McMaster who was first elected in the 1959 by-election and continued to represent the constituency until his defeat in 1974. All elections held during this period were contested. The constituency recorded the highest turnout in the 1959 general election.

See also election results for East Belfast 1973-1982, 1983-1992 and 1993-2007.

Results Table

1970w 59.5% 40.5%
1966w 54.7% 45.3%
1964w 58.8% 36.9% 4.3%
1959w 60.1% 37.2% 2.7%
1959w-b 57.8% 42.2%
1955w 62.5% 30.2% 7.3%
1951w 61.7% 38.3%
1950w 63.3% 36.7%

Westminster Election, 18 June 1970

Stanley Raymond McMaster (U) 26,778 (59.5%)
David Wylie Bleakley (NILP) 18,259 (40.5%)

Unionist majority: 8,519; electorate: 59,524; votes cast: 75.7%

In this, his penultimate Westminster contest, McMaster once again squared off with the NILP. Having polled very well in 1964, the NILP had high expectations of making a breakthrough and had selected one of their highest profile members, David Bleakley, as their candidate. However, in the face of a rapidly changing political environment (and on a higher turn-out), the NILP's share of the poll dipped and McMaster was returned once more.

Bleakley had previously unsuccessfully contested the Northern Ireland House of Commons constituency of Victoria (Belfast) in the 1949 and 1953 elections. He was finally elected to Stormont in 1958 and represented Victoria until losing his seat in 1965. He was appointed Minister for Community Relations in 1971 by Prime Minister Brian Faulkner (despite not being an MP at the time), becoming the only member of the NILP to serve in government. He again unsuccessfully contested East Belfast for the February and October Westminster elections of 1974. He represented East Belfast in the Assembly (1973-74) and the Constitutional Convention (1975-76). He also unsuccessfully contested the 1979 European Parliamentary election as an Independent and the 1982 and 1998 Assembly elections in East Belfast as an Independent Labour candidate.

Westminster Election, 31 March 1966

Stanley Raymond McMaster (U) 21,283 (54.7%)
Robert Martin McBirney (NILP) 17,650 (45.3%)

Unionist majority: 3,633; electorate: 57,077; votes cast: 68.2%

The incumbent McMaster once again defended his seat in the general election of 1966. His sole competition once more came from the NILP, fielding a new candidate, Robert McBirney. McBirney polled extremely well, capturing over 45% of the vote and giving the NILP their best ever result in a Westminster election. His majority slashed to just over 3,600 votes, McMaster had done enough to be returned to Westminster for a fourth term.

In September 1974, Robert Martin McBirney, then a Resident Magistrate, was shot and killed by the IRA in his Belfast home.

Westminster Election, 15 October 1964

Stanley Raymond McMaster (U) 24,804 (58.8%)
Samuel John Watt (NILP) 15,555 (36.9%)
David McConnell (R) 1,827 (4.3%)

Unionist majority: 9,249; electorate: 58,196; votes cast: 72.5%

McMaster seeking a third successive victory faced two new opponents in the 1964 election. The NILP were once again contesting the constituency with a new candidate, Samuel Watt. David McConnell was standing on a Republican abstentionist ticket (Sinn Fein now being a proscribed organization). In the end McMaster successfully defended his seat, although with a slightly reduced majority.

Westminster Election, 8 October 1959

Stanley Raymond McMaster (U) 26,510 (60.1%)
James Steele Gardner (NILP) 16,412 (37.2%)
Bernard Boswell (SF) 1,204 (2.7%)

Unionist majority: 10,098; electorate: 58,663; votes cast: 75.2%

Having been elected in a by-election just seven months earlier, the newest Unionist MP, Stanley McMaster, was back on the hustings defending his seat. By-election candidate James Gardner was again representing the NILP and Sinn Fein nominee, Barney Boswell, rounded out the field. In the end, McMaster successfully defended his seat for the first time, almost doubling his majority in the process.

The NILP candidate, James Gardner, would later unsuccessfully contest the Northern Ireland House of Commons by-election for Mid-Down in 1964.

Westminster By-Election, 19 March 1959

Stanley McMaster (U) 19,524 (57.8%)
James Gardner (NILP) 14,264 (42.2%)

Unionist majority: 5,260; electorate 58,388; votes cast: 57.9%

This by-election was caused by the death of the incumbent, Alan McKibbin, who had represented the constituency since 1950. Stanley McMaster, a London based barrister, was nominated as the Unionist candidate. Following Tom Boyd's successful election to Northern Ireland House of Commons, the NILP selected a new candidate in East Belfast, namely James Gardner. Gardner polled well capturing over 42% of the vote but the Unionist candidate was victorious with a majority of 5,260.

Westminster Election, 26 May 1955

Alan John McKibbin (U) 26,938 (62.5%)
Thomas William Boyd (NILP) 13,041 (30.2%)
Liam Mulcahy (SF) 3,156 (7.3%)

Unionist majority: 13,897; electorate: 61,258; votes cast: 70.4%

Seeking a third consecutive term, the incumbent McKibbin once again defended his seat in the 1955 general election. His opponent contesting the seat for the fourth time was once again the NILP's Tom Boyd. This election also came at a time of increased militant republican activity. In October 1954 the IRA had attempted a raid on Omagh Barracks in order to capture weapons for their planned Operation Harvest. The raid was a failure and led to the capture of eight IRA members. One of those captured and imprisoned for his part in the raid was Liam Mulcahy. Mulcahy was subsequently selected to represent Sinn Fein in East Belfast. The presence of a third candidate did not alter the result and McKibbin was returned for another term and with an increased majority. Contesting only three seats in 1955, this was the NILP's best result of the election.

Boyd had stood unsuccessfully for the Northern Ireland House of Commons in 1953 (Pottinger). He was finally elected for Pottinger in 1958 and also became leader of the Northern Ireland Labour Party following his victory.

Westminster Election, 25 October 1951

Alan John McKibbin (U) 28,881 (61.7%)
Thomas William Boyd (NILP) 17,910 (38.3%)

Unionist majority: 10,971; electorate: 62,798; votes cast: 74.5%

The incumbent McKibbin again squared-off with his NILP opponent Tom Boyd, in a repeat of the 1950 general election. Once again the result was the same with McKibbin topping the poll although on a slightly reduced majority of just under 11,000.

Westminster Election, 23 February 1950

Alan John McKibbin (U) 29,844 (63.3%)
Thomas William Boyd (NILP) 17,338 (36.7%)

Unionist majority: 12,506; electorate: 61,561; votes cast: 76.6%

The incumbent Thomas Cole did not seek re-election in 1950. He was replaced on the ballot by Unionist Alan McKibben. His sole opponent was Tom Boyd, representing the NILP. Boyd had contested East Belfast in 1945 and had secured almost 44% of the vote. East Belfast represented one of the NILP's best chances at taking a seat and expectations were running high. In the end the NILP vote slipped below their 1945 levels to 36.7% and McKibbin was elected with a majority of over 12,000.

Boyd had also stood unsuccessfully for the Northern Ireland House of Commons in 1938 (Victoria) and 1949 (Bloomfield).

See also:

Results from 1950 to 1970 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.

Conal Kelly, 1 June 2007.

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