The 1997 Westminster elections in Northern Ireland

The Elections

The elections of May 1, 1997, were eagerly awaited in England, Scotland and Wales as a tidal wave swept the Conservatives out of office (and out of Scotland and Wales entirely), brought in a Labour government with a huge majority, and doubled the number of Liberal Democrats in Parliament. In Northern Ireland however the national picture was largely irrelevant. The 18 constituencies were in use for the first parliamentary election under the new boundaries, and change of some kind was inevitable.

The results of this election were disappointing for the DUP, who lost the Mid-Ulster seat, and also for the SDLP, who lost West Belfast. The jubilant winners in both cases were Sinn Fein, who outpolled the DUP for the first time. The other parties consolidated their positions, the UUP picking up the new seat in West Tyrone.

This map by Conal Kelly shows the winner in each constituency in 1997.

The Results

The details of each seat are on the relevant page; the totals for the whole of Northern Ireland were as follows (see spreadsheet archive):
UUP 258,439 votes 32.7% 10 MPs (North Belfast, South Belfast, East Antrim, South Antrim, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Lagan Valley, East Londonderry, Strangford, West Tyrone, Upper Bann)
SDLP 190,844 votes 24.1% 3 MPs (South Down, Foyle, Newry and Armagh)
SF 126,921 votes 16.1% 2 MPs (West Belfast, Mid Ulster)
DUP 107,348 votes  13.6% 2 MPs (East Belfast, North Antrim)
Alliance 62,972 votes 8.0%
UKUP 12,817 votes 1.6% 1 MP (North Down)
PUP 10,934 votes 1.4%
Conservative 9,858 votes 1.2%
NIWC 3,024 votes  0.4%
WP 2,766 votes 0.3%
Natural Law Party 2,210 votes 0.3%
Robert Mason (East Antrim) 1,145 votes

Derek Dougan (East Belfast) 541 votes

Green Party (North Belfast) 539 votes

Independent Labour (South Belfast) 292 votes

Human Rights (West Belfast) 101 votes

National Democrats (East Londonderry) 81 votes

Northern Ireland Party (North Down) 57 votes


Only the SDLP and Natural Law Party had candidates in all 18 seats. Alliance and Sinn Fein had 17 each (missing West Belfast and North Down respectively, in an odd sort of symmetry), and the Ulster Unionists 16 (they asked their supporters to vote DUP in Foyle and Mid Ulster). The DUP themselves had nine candidates, and the Workers Party and Conservatives eight each. The PUP and Women's Coalition both ran three candidates, and the UKUP only one - but he won!

Of the other six candidates, Dougan was the former captain of the Northern Ireland football team and Mason an East Antrim local councillor who also stood unsuccessfully in 1998. The Green Party is loosely linked with the party of a similar name in the Irish Republic which has two members of the Dáil. The South Belfast Labour group are fairly long established if electorally unsuccessful. The Human Rights candidate in West Belfast is a university lecturer with an interest in politics (he wrote a booklet advocating the repartition of Northern Ireland some years ago). The National Democrats are a far-right party based in England, unrelated to the National Democrtic Party active in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and eventually absorbed by the SDLP. The Northern Ireland Party is a one-man party which also contested the European election in 1994 and the North Down by-election in 1995.

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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Nicholas Whyte, 3 June 1998; last modified 17 February 2002.

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