The 1929 Westminster Elections in Northern Ireland

The Elections

Having served all but six months of the maximum five-year term, the Conservative Prime Minster Stanley Baldwin called an election for the 30 May 1929. The election was fought against a background of high unemployment and a period of growing labor unrest. The Equal Franchise Act of 1928, had resulted in a major increase in the electorate by reducing the voting age for women from 30 to 21 years. With the addition of more than five million women to the electoral roll, the election was often referred to as the "Flapper Election".

The election resulted in a hung parliament with the Conservatives losing 152 seats, for a total of 260. Labour, despite polling 1% less than the Conservatives, ended up with 287 seats, a net gain of 136. The Liberals recaptured some of the ground they had lost in the 1924 election and held the balance of power with their 59 seats. The Liberals opted not to ally with the Conservatives and Ramsay McDonald was appointed Prime Minister over a minority Labour government.

This was the second time Northern Ireland had gone to the polls in the space of a month. Eight days previously, elections for the Parliament of Northern Ireland had taken place. It was the first election held following abolition of proportional representation and the redrawing of electoral boundaries to create single-seat territorial constituencies. The Unionists won a comfortable majority and so were confident facing into the Westminster elections.

The Unionist Party faced renewed opposition from the Liberal Party across four constituencies. The Liberals acquired just under 20% of the popular vote but failed to come close to winning a seat. The Unionists won eleven seats but curiously didn’t defend the two-seat Fermanagh and Tyrone constituency, where they had won in 1924. As a result the Nationalists took both seats and denied the Unionist Party of another clean-sweep.

Westminster Election Map 1929
This map by Conal Kelly shows the winner in each constituency in 1929.

The Results

The details of each seat are on the relevant constituency page; the totals for the whole of Northern Ireland were as follows:
Party Votes % Share Seats Won
Unionist 354,657 69.5% 11 MPs (Antrim (2 seats), Armagh, East Belfast, North Belfast, South Belfast, West Belfast, Down (2 Seats), Londonderry and Queens University.
Liberal 100,103 19.6%
Independent Unionist 25,057 5.0%
Nationalist 24,177 4.7% 2 MPs (Fermanagh & Tyrone (2 seats))
Independent 6,059 0.1%

Previous Contests

This graph contrasts the 1929 election result with the Westminster elections of 1924, 1923, 1922, 1918, 1910 (Dec) and 1910 (Jan). It is important to note that the comparison chart below can be somewhat misleading given the high number of seats that went uncontested during this period. The Unionist Party was unopposed in eight seats in January 1910, nine in December 1910, ten in 1922, nine in 1923 and three in 1924. In addition, Nationalists were unopposed in one seat in January 1910 and two in December 1910.



In Londonderry and Queens University Unionist candidates were returned unopposed.
In Fermanagh & Tyrone (2 seats) Nationalist candidates were returned unopposed.
William Stewart, the successful Unionist candidate for South Belfast, had stood unsuccessfully against his predecessor, Thomas Moles, when he ran as an Independent Unionist in the 1918 election for Belfast Ormeau.
William Allen, the successful Unionist candidate for West Belfast, had previously contested the Fermanagh & Tyrone (2 seats) constituency for the Unionists in the 1922 Westminster elections. In 1931 he would defect from the Unionist Party and join Sir Oswald Mosley's facist New Party.
Frank MacDermot, the defeated Nationalist candidate in West Belfast, was subsequently elected to the Dáil at the 1932 Irish general election as an Independent for Roscommon.
Thomas Harbison, the successful Nationalist candidate for Fermanagh and Tyrone, had previously been the MP between 1922-1924.
Joseph Devlin, leader of the Nationalist Party and successful candidate for Fermanagh and Tyrone, had previously been elected as MP for Kilkenny North (1902–1906), West Belfast (1906–1918), and Belfast Falls (1918–1922).
Denis Ireland, the defeated Liberal candidate in East Belfast, would later be appointed to Irish Senate in 1948 by Taoiseach John Costello. He was the first member of the Oireachtas to be resident in Northern Ireland.
The Liberal Party contested their first Westminster election since the establishment of Northern Ireland, fielding a total of six candidates across four constituencies.
Only six of the MPs elected in 1924 were returned to Westminster in this election.

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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Conal Kelly, 10 October 2007.

Disclaimer:© Nicholas Whyte 2005 Last Updated on Saturday, May 07, 2005 09:42:49