The 1996 Forum Elections and the Peace Process

The Elections

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. (See spreadsheet archive.) 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:

UUP 181,829 votes 24.17% 28 + 2 = 30 seats
SDLP 160,786 votes 21.36% 19 + 2 = 21 seats
DUP 141,413 votes 18.80% 22 + 2 = 24 seats
SF 116,377 votes 15.47% 15 + 2 = 17 seats
Alliance 49,176 votes 6.54% 5 + 2 = 7 seats
UKUP 27,774 votes 3.69% 1 + 2 = 3 seats
PUP 26,082 votes 3.47% 2 top-up seats
UDP 16,715 votes 2.22% 2 top-up seats
NIWC 7,731 votes 1.03% 2 top-up seats
Labour 6,425 votes 0.85% 2 top-up seats
Green Party 3,647 votes 0.49%
Conservatives 3,595 votes 0.48%
Workers Party 3,530 votes 0.47%
Ulster Independence Movement 2,125 votes 0.28%
Democratic Left 1,215 votes 0.16%
Democratic Partnership 1,046 votes 0.14%
Independent McMullan 927 votes 0.12%
Independent Chambers 567 votes 0.08%
Natural Law Party 389 votes 0.05%
Independent DUP 388 votes 0.05%
Arthur Templeton 350 votes 0.05%
Ulster's Independent Voice 204 votes 0.03%
Communist Party 66 votes 0.01%
Ulster Christian Democrats 31 votes 0.00%

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 site.


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:

Ulster Independence Movement (UIM)
Speaks for itself really. Also stood in the 1990 Upper Bann by-election and the 1994 European Parliament election.
Democratic Left (DL)
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.
Democratic Partnership
A well-intentioned movement founded by former Peace People and NI Labour personalities, now defunct.
Independent McMullan
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.
Independent Chambers
Led by a North Down councillor, definitely Unionist in ethos. Chambers also stood unsuccessfully in 1998.
Independent DUP
Another small North Down based grouping, now defunct.
Arthur Templeton
Veteran South Antrim independent Unionist.
Ulster's Independent Voice (UIV)
Yet another small North Down grouping, also stood unsuccessfully in 1998.
Communist Party (CP)
Old revolutionaries never die, they simply fade away.
Ulster Christian Democrats (UCD)
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 .
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).

Constituency list

East Belfast 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance (full list of candidates)
North Belfast 2 DUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP (full list of candidates)
South Belfast 2 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 Alliance (full list of candidates)
West Belfast 4 SF, 1 SDLP (full list of candidates)
East Antrim 2 UUP, 2 DUP, 1 Alliance (full list of candidates)
North Antrim 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SDLP (full list of candidates)
South Antrim 2 UUP, 2 DUP, 1 SDLP (full list of candidates)
North Down 2 UUP, 1 UKUP, 1 DUP, 1 Alliance (full list of candidates)
South Down 3 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 SF (full list of candidates)
Fermanagh and South Tyrone 2 UUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP (full list of candidates)
Foyle 3 SDLP, 2 SF (full list of candidates)
Lagan Valley 3 UUP, 2 DUP (full list of candidates)
East Londonderry 2 UUP, 2 DUP, 1 SDLP (full list of candidates)
Mid Ulster 2 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 DUP (full list of candidates)
Newry and Armagh 2 SDLP, 2 SF, 1 UUP (full list of candidates)
Strangford 2 UUP, 2 DUP, 1 Alliance (full list of candidates)
West Tyrone 2 SDLP, 1 SF, 1 UUP, 1 DUP (full list of candidates)
Upper Bann 2 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 SF (full list of candidates)

The regional list of candidates can be found here. The two 'top-up' candidates elected for each party were as follows:

UUP Antony Alcock John Gorman
SDLP Jonathan Stephenson Dorita Field
DUP Eric Smyth Gregory Campbell
SF Lucilita Breathnach Pat Doherty
Alliance Seamus Close Eileen Bell
UKUP Conor Cruise O'Brien Cedric Wilson
PUP Hugh Smyth David Ervine
UDP Gary McMichael John White
NIWC Monica McWilliams Pearl Sagar
Labour Malachi Curran Hugh Casey

See also:

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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This 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.

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