West Belfast 1950-1970

map results graph
Map and diagram by Conal Kelly

Established in 1920, this constituency incorporates the western quarter of the city of Belfast. Between 1950 and 1970 the constituency was represented by six different MPs (4 Unionist, 1 Irish Labour, 1 Republican Labour). All elections held during this period were contested.

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

Results Table

U NILP Ind Lab Ir Lab Rep Lab SF/Rep
1970w 47.2%

1966w 48.0%

1964w 41.2% 24.2%

28.3% 6.3%
1959w 54.1%

1955w 58.3%

1951w 50.0%


1950w-b 50.7%


1950w 51.4%


Westminster Election, 18 June 1970

Gerard Fitt (Rep Lab) 30,649 (52.8%)
Brian James Henry McRoberts (U) 27,451 (47.2%)

Republican Labour majority: 3,198; electorate: 68,665; votes cast: 84.6%

The incumbent Fitt was defending his seat for the first time in 1970. As was the case four years earlier, his sole opposition came from the Unionist Party. Kilfedder, who had lost the seat to Fitt in 1966, was now contesting North Down, so the Unionists opted for a new candidate in Brian McRoberts. In an intense campaign, McRoberts faced an uphill battle against the high-profile Fitt. On polling day McRoberts' election headquarters on the Shankill Road were bombed (no injuries). In one of the closest results of the election, Fitt was returned to Westminster with an increased majority of 3,198.

Fitt would continue to represent West Belfast until 1983, for the the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the party he helped found in 1970 and led until 1980, and then as an Independent Socialist. In July 1983, after his defeat by Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, he was made a UK life peer as Baron Fitt, of Bell's Hill in the County of Down. McRoberts had previously stood unsuccessfully for the Northern Ireland House of Commons in the 1962 general election for the constituency of South Armagh.

Westminster Election, 31 March 1966

Gerard Fitt (Rep Lab) 26,292 (52.0%)
James Alexander Kilfedder (U) 24,281 (48.0%)

Republican Labour majority: 2,011; electorate: 67,575; votes cast: 74.8%

The 1966 election in West Belfast saw the incumbent Kilfedder defending his seat for the first time. In a two-horse race, Kilfedder faced Gerry Fitt of the Republican Labour Party. Fitt, the colourful, fast-talking, ex-sailor, had represented Belfast Dock in the Northern Ireland House of Commons since 1962. In the closest result of the election, Kilfedder managed to increase his vote over his 1964 tally but he was unable to out-poll Fitt who was elected to Westminster with a majority of just over 2,000.

Along with his fellow Belfast councillor Harry Diamond, Fitt was a founding member of the Republican Labour Party. Fitt had unsuccessfully contested Belfast Dock in the 1958 general election before his successful run in 1962. He was also a member of Belfast City Council between 1958 and 1981. In the 1970 general election Kilfedder was elected to represent North Down. He held this seat until his death in 1995. Initially a member of the Unionist Party, he later left and formed the Ulster Popular Unionist Party.

Westminster Election, 15 October 1964

James Alexander Kilfedder (U) 21,337 (41.2%)
Harry Diamond (Rep Lab) 14,678 (28.3%)
William Robinson Boyd (NILP) 12,571 (24.2%)
William McMillen (R) 3,256 (6.3%)

Unionist majority: 6,659; electorate: 69,399; votes cast: 74.7%

The incumbent McLaughlin was not selected to contest the 1964 general election, instead the Unionists chose London based barrister James Kilfedder as their candidate. Kilfedder was joined in the contest by three other candidates. Principle among these was veteran Belfast socialist Harry Diamond. Diamond, who represented Belfast Falls in the Northern Ireland House of Commons, had recently founded the Republican Labour Party along with his fellow belfast councillor Gerry Fitt (wags commented at the time that two one-man parties had combined to become one two-man party). Diamond was not the only socialist on the ballot. Billy Boyd, who represented the Belfast Woodvale constituency at Stormont, was the NILP's chosen candidate. Rounding out the field was former IRA prisoner Billy (Liam) McMillan, who was standing as a Republican (Sinn Fein now being a proscribed organization).

The most interesting incident of the election involved an aspiring political activist by the name of Ian Paisley, who threatened to lead his supporters to remove a tricolour on display at Republican headquarters on Divis Street, if the authorities failed to act first. The RUC moved in and removed the flag and clashed with local residents. Several days later, when the flag was replaced, the RUC once again returned to remove it, this time however their actions triggered some of the most intense rioting the city had seen since 1935 and gained widespread media attention.

The contest was ultimately won by the Unionist Party candidate, James Kilfedder, who gave much credit to the Rev Paisley, without whom, he said, his victory would not have been possible. His margin of victory was in excess of 6,000 votes, however the Unionist vote had decreased significantly when compared with 1955 and 1959.
Diamond would later lose his Belfast Falls seat to Paddy Devlin of the NILP in the 1969 Northern Ireland general election. Billy Boyd lost his Belfast Woodvale seat in 1965 and was unable to regain it in the 1969 election. He also stood unsuccessfully in West Belfast for the 1973 Assembly and in North Belfast for the 1975 Constitutional Convention and the 1982 Assembly election (as an Independent). He also contested West Belfast in the Westminster elections of February 1974. After the Provisional republican split in 1969, Liam McMillan became a leader in the ‘Official’ Republican Movement. He was later assassinated by the INLA during a feud in 1975.

Westminster Election, 8 October 1959

Florence Patricia Alice McLaughlin (U) 28,898 (54.1%)
John Brennan (Ind Lab) 20,062 (37.6%)
Thomas Adair Heenan (SF) 4,416 (8.3%)

Unionist majority: 8,836; electorate: 73,405; votes cast: 72.7%

Seeking a second term, the incumbent McLaughlin again represented the Unionist Party in West Belfast in 1959. Her principle opposition came from Independent Labour candidate John Brennan, who was hoping to attract the supporters of the retired Jack Beattie. The result was another victory for McLaughlin, although her majority was cut to just over 8,000 votes. Brennan managed to improve on Beattie's 1955 tally and captured over 37% of the poll. The third place finisher, Sinn Fein's Thomas Heenan, saw his party's support almost halved compared to 1955. This was due largely to the IRA's on-going and divisive Operation Harvest campaign.

McLaughlin was not selected to contest the 1964 general election, but she later stood unsuccessfully as the Conservative Party candidate for Wandsworth Central (in south London) in the 1970 general election, losing by less than 3,000 votes. Brennan stood unsuccessfully in the Belfast Falls constituency for the Northern Ireland House of Commons in the 1962 general election. A founding member of the National Democratic Party, he was subsequently elected to Stormont in the 1965 general election for Belfast Central.

Westminster Election, 26 May 1955

Florence Patricia Alice McLaughlin (U) 34,191 (58.3%)
John Beattie (Ir Lab) 16,050 (27.3%)
Eamonn Boyce (SF) 8,447 (14.4%)

Unionist majority: 18,141; electorate: 78,559; votes cast: 74.7%

The incumbent Beattie was again running under the Irish Labour banner in 1955. Following the untimely death of their previous candidate, Thomas Teevan, in 1954, the Unionists selected Patricia McLaughlin as their standard bearer. McLaughlin was not only the sole female Unionist candidate, she was the only female candidate across all Northern Ireland. 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 Eamonn Boyce. Boyce was subsequently selected to represent Sinn Fein in West Belfast.

When the votes were counted, Beattie's support appeared to have evaporated; he polled less than half his 1951 tally. Some of his support had made its way to Sinn Fein who captured just above 14% of the poll. However, the story of the election was the victory of McLaughlin who was elected to Westminster with a comfortable majority in excess of 18,000.

Beattie had stood unsuccessfully in the Belfast Central constituency for the Northern Ireland House of Commons in the 1953 general election. McLaughlin was not the first female Unionist MP, that mantle was achieved by Patricia Ford who succeeded her father in the North Down by-election of 1953. However McLaughlin was the first female Unionist MP endorsed directly by the electorate (Ford had been elected unopposed).

Westminster Election, 25 October 1951

John Beattie (Ir Lab) 33,174 (50.0%)
Leslie Teevan (U) 33,149 (50.0%)

Irish Labour majority: 25; electorate: 78,828; votes cast: 84.1%

Having served in the House of Commons for just under a year, Teevan found himself returning to the hustings to defend his seat in the 1951 general election. He faced the same opponent he had so narrowly beaten the year before, Irish Labour Party candidate Jack Beattie. In the closest result of the election, Beattie managed to recapture the seat he lost 20 months earlier by a mere 25 votes. 

Despite his young age, Teevan was widely seen as a rising star and a potential future leader of Unionism. Unfortunately he died very suddenly, aged 27, in 1954.

Westminster By-Election, 29 November 1950

Thomas Leslie Teevan (U) 31,796 (50.7%)
John Beattie (Irish Labour) 30,883 (49.3%)

Unionist majority: 913 electorate 78,459; votes cast: 79.9%

Having been elected in the February general election, Rev. MacManaway became the first priest to take his seat in the House of Commons for 150 years. His priestly status raised some questions and the matter was referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The judgment of the Committee was that MacManaway was ineligible to serve in the House of Commons and a new writ was issued. The resulting by-election was held 29 November, just nine months after the previous contest. The Unionists selected 23 year old lawyer Thomas Teevan as their candidate, while Jack Beattie once again contested the constituency under the Irish Labour Party banner. In a hotly contested election, Teevan managed to squeak home with a majority of just 913 votes, the youngest MP of the day.

Westminster Election, 23 February 1950

Rev. James Godfrey MacManaway (U) 33,917 (51.4%)
John Beattie (Ir Lab) 30,539 (46.3%)
James Steele (SF) 1,482 (2.2%)

Unionist majority: 3,378; electorate: 78,896; votes cast: 83.6%

Irish Labour candidate Jack Beattie had represented the constituency of West Belfast since the 1943 by-election. Defending his seat for the second time, Beattie's principle opponent was Unionist candidate and Church of Ireland cleric, the Reverend James MacManaway. Also contesting the election was veteran Belfast republican, Jimmy Steele, who was Sinn Fein's sole candidate in the 1950 general election. The result was a narrow victory for the Unionists, MacManaway topping the poll with a majority of just under 3,400. Beattie was the only sitting MP not to be returned in the 1950 general election.

Beattie had been a member of the NILP (and one time leader) until he was expelled in 1934. He was readmitted to the party in 1942 before resigning again the following year. He formed the Federation of Labour in 1945 before disbanding it and joining the Irish Labour Party in 1949. He contested the 1943 by-election and the 1945 general election as an Independent Labour candidate. Beattie had represented East Belfast in the Northern Ireland House of Commons between 1925-1929 and Pottinger between 1929-1949. Rev. MacManaway was also a member of the Northern Ireland House of Commons, having been elected for the City of Londonderry from 1947 until his resignation in January 1951.

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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