Background to the Council Elections: Fermanagh and Omagh…

This Council has 40 councillors.

Both the UUP and Sinn Féin elected councillors to all seven District Electoral Areas (DEA’s), with the SDLP and DUP each in five, and Alliance and Cross Community Labour Alternative in one each. Four DEA’s also returned Independent councillors.

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I have not allocated the voters for Emmet McAleer to any of the three designations. For an explanation please see the section on the Mid Tyrone DEA.

The votes for the other three Independents have been allocated to nationalists.

The make up of the Council in 2014 and 2019 is shown in the chart below.

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Bernice Swift (Erne West) was returned at every election since 2005. In that first election she stood for SF, but has been an Independent at each subsequent poll, but will not be seeking re-election this time.

Josephine Deehan (Omagh) was first elected as an SDLP candidate in 2001 and at every election since, until 2019 when she stood as an Independent.

John McCluskey (Erne East) was elected in 2019 and resigned nearly a year later. Eamon Keenan was co-opted in his place and is contesting the coming election as an Independent.

Five seats changed hands, slightly lower than for most councils. The SDLP lost 3. In Mid Tyrone it lost one to Independent McAleer, and in Omagh it lost two seats in the same DEA – something which is quite unusual – one to Alliance and one to Independent Deehan (who had previously held the seat for the SDLP). Sinn Féin lost 2 seats, in Enniskillen to Cross Community Labour Alternative, and in Erne East to Independent McCluskey.

Possibly the most interesting change in vote shares from the point of view of implications for this election is the 4% point drop for the UUP.

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That drop did not cost them a single seat, but left them only 335 votes above the DUP. With nearly twice as many councillors as the DUP, covering a higher number of DEA’s, the UUP vote is clearly much more thinly spread, leaving a number of its seats vulnerable if the balance moves even slightly further in favour of the DUP.

Worth noting, too, is that both nationalist parties lost out to Independents. It will be worth watching to see if that trend continues here and elsewhere.

Comparing the 2019 council elections with the 2022 Assembly elections in Fermanagh South Tyrone and in West Tyrone show nationalists up 2% and ‘others’ up 1% at the expense of unionists. SF is the outstand gainer – up 14% points in FST (where the SDLP dropped 5%) and 9% in WT. Again, it poses the question can SF hold on to those levels of improvement, or will it be eroded by Independents?

Amongst unionists only the TUV is up, 4% points in FST and 9% in West Tyrone.

Alliance was up 2% points in both constituencies.

Outlook by DEA

As well as giving the historical data for the last election in 2019, each table contains two projections.

The first, headed ‘Based on Ass’22’, shows an estimate for the change in the party quota based on the change in its vote between 2019 and 2022 in the relevant constituency or constituencies. I then show where this might put a seat under threat or present a possible gain.

The second projection is changed in the light of the headline figures in the latest Lucid Talk poll. However, since the detailed tables are not published until later, I have been unable to use some of the information I normally rely on.

I have departed from the Assembly vote and the Lucid Talk poll in one respect. I have assumed that Independents who were elected in 2019 will hold onto all or most of their vote in this election, based on the tendency for this to happen in previous council elections.

Please remember that this is not intended to be a prediction. In contrast to my conservative treatment of Independents seeking re-election, I have included party gains and losses which are a long shot, as well as those which are more likely. This is to reflect the degree of uncertainty inherent in making these estimates. Treat them as a guide as to what to look out for, or for making your own judgements.

My Best bet for each DEA is just a bit of fun. It is too simplified to capture all the possibilities and may therefore be wrong as often as it is right.

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All six outgoing councillors are contesting the election again. One of the two UUP’s had been co-opted.

There is a big question mark hanging over the second UUP seat. The TUV look well placed to make a strong bid for it. If the TUV fail then the DUP would be in with a chance, and could expect to receive a transfer boost from the TUV. In the Assembly elections the TUV transferred slightly better than 2 votes to the DUP for every 1 for the UUP.

Sinn Feín has upped their candidates to three, despite holding only 1 seat at the last election. They will expect to get 2 quotas or above, with the SDLP the most likely loser. They are also taking a punt at the Cross Community Labour Alternative candidate, who won the seat on 0.7 of a quota. However, the CCLabour had a huge transfer advantage – attracting 230 transfers while the 2 Sinn Feín candidates only achieved 49 between them.

Best bet: TUV and Sinn Feín gain one each from UUP and SDLP.

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Description automatically generated All six outgoing councillors are standing again.

The outgoing Independent Councillor Eamon Keenan was co-opted in 2020 to replace Independent McCluskey. He is running on a joint ticket with Independent Tina McDermott. Keenan only campaigns on local issues but signals his sympathies by including a small tricolour logo and what looks like a starry plough, on his campaign posters.

Of course there is no way of telling whether Keenan retains McCloskey’s following until the votes are counted. It looks like Sinn Feín could be heading for 3 quotas so, the only hope for the SDLP is if the Independents fall flat.

Best bet: Sinn Feín gain from SDLP

Erne North

All five outgoing councillors are standing again. One DUP and one SF were co-opted.

Whether the UUP can retain two seats could come down to how well balanced their candidates are. In 2019 they did not balance at all. Without drastic improvement the TUV could well slip through. A lot will depend on the strength of the candidates.

It could be touch and go for the SDLP. If Sinn Feín reach two quotas they obviously take the SDLP seat. If they fall short the SDLP would have to stay ahead of Alliance in order to gain transfers. If the three unionist seats are already decided there could be a handful more transfers coming the SDLP’s way.

Best bet: Sinn Feín gain from SDLP.

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Description automatically generatedErne West

Of the five outgoing councillors only the SDLP and one SF are on the ballot paper this time.

Paul McGoldrick is standing as an Independent, endorsed by outgoing long-term Independent republican councillor Bernice Swift. I have guessed that this backing allows him to retain about two thirds of her vote, but clearly that is highly speculative. Sinn Feín obviously spy an opportunity to take either the SDLP or Independent seat.

Alliance did not stand here last time so there is little form to go on. I have assumed that their vote will be similar to the Independent Armstrong whose vote in 2019 transferred across the spectrum. If Alliance is ahead of the DUP on the first count there could be substantial unionist transfers coming its way. But the SDLP vote may have fallen too far to provide it with many further transfers.

Best bet: Independent gain from Independent and Sinn Feín gain from SDLP.

Mid Tyrone

Of the 4 SF councillors elected last time only one is standing again. An SF co-optee is also in the running. The outgoing UUP councillor was also co-opted, former MLA Rosemary Barton.

This is another seat where a TUV candidate might have stood a chance of taking a seat. The UUP will be hoping that Barton’s profile will be sufficient to stem the tide which has run against it since 2019. But a party drop of 7% points is very difficult to resist.

Emmet McAleer elected as an Independent in 2019 and standing again this year. His public comments concentrate on local issues and I have found nothing which hints at a public constitutional position. His votes did not transfer so give no evidence for the composition of his voter base. Both he and the Cross Community Labour Alternative councillor for Enniskillen, Donal O’Cofaigh, supported each other at their respective 2023 campaign launches. I have not allocated his votes to any designation.

Best bet: DUP gain from UUP

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Description automatically generated with low confidenceOmagh

Five of the six outgoing councillors are standing again, including the co-opted UUP. The exception is one Sinn Feín.

If the unionist vote dropped a little there would be an outside chance that the UUP could lose their seat. But since there are only two unionist candidates it would still be extremely unlikely. If it did happen, either the SDLP or Sinn Feín would pick it up.

Independent Kathy Dunphy is the founder of Tune Up – Omagh CIC. It is very difficult to estimate her vote. There is certainly an Independent vote in Omagh. In the last election there were three Independents who were not elected. The first two transferred only half of their votes to party candidates, preferring other Independents plus a few non-transfers. When it came to the third Independent there was no Independent left in the race (Deehan having reached quota) and 35% did not transfer at all. I have assumed, therefore, that Dunphy will get around half of the votes that went to the unsuccessful Independents.

Best bet: No change

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Description automatically generated with low confidenceWest Tyrone

All six outgoing councillors have put their names forward again.

Yet another DEA where a TUV candidate might have been in the running if the party had put one forward, this time challenging the UUP for their seat.

I had to double-check, twice. Sinn Feín running four candidates? What was the thinking behind that? They would need to balance better than a row of ballerinas, and would still have little chance of taking the SDLP seat. Last time out the SDLP were only a handful short of a quota on first preferences, and then took a third of the DUP transfers for good measure.

A Machievellian interpretation is that their real purpose is to tie up all their own votes in order to deny the SDLP any transfers. So that if the SDLP vote drops, unionist transfers might just carry Alliance (which was runner up last time) ahead of the SDLP.

Best bet: No change

 


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