Northern Ireland Assembly Elections 1998

As a part of the Good Friday Agreement, agreed to by eight political parties and the British and Irish governments to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Northern Ireland conflict, there were elections to a new power-sharing Assembly for Northern Ireland on June 25th 1998. The Assembly itself now has a web-site at On 12 February 2000 it and the associated institutions were suspended, but were restored on 30 May. They were again suspended for 24 hours on 11 August 2001 and 22 September 2001, and once more from 14 October 2002.

The full results, count-by-count, with analysis of all surplus transfers and some others, are now available here on a separate page for each constituency: East Belfast, North Belfast, South Belfast, West Belfast, East Antrim, North Antrim, South Antrim, North Down, South Down, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Foyle, Lagan Valley, East Londonderry, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh, Strangford, West Tyrone, and Upper Bann. There is also a page chronicling the members of the Executive.

There are many other sites which deal with the context of the Assembly election, and you could do worse than start with the Assembly itself. Elsewhere on this site you will find Jim Riley's analysis of how votes turned into seats in the election, and a complete list of candidates, including their previous electoral records (for analysis of this see below). CAIN also has a page of results. Standard media including the BBC, Belfast Telegraph and Irish Times carried special sections for the occasion. Tobias Zywietz' UK Election Statistics Database includes a Northern Ireland Assembly elections page; the complete election results, count-by-count, are available in spreadsheet format from Keith Edkins, and Wilfried Derksen's Elections Around the World site also includes a Northern Ireland page. If you want even more fun you should get hold of Ciaran Quinn's superb little election programme at

The results

108 members were elected to the new Assembly; each of the existing 18 parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland elected 6 members of the new body by the Single Transferable Vote.  See spreadsheet archive.
SDLP 177,963 votes 21.97% 24 seats
UUP 172,225 votes 21.25% 28 seats
DUP 146,989 votes 18.14% 20 seats
Sinn Féin 142,858 votes 17.63% 18 seats
Alliance 52,636 votes 6.50% 6 seats
UKUP 36,541 votes 4.51% 5 seats
PUP 20,634 votes 2.55% 2 seats
NIWC 13,019 votes 1.61% 2 seats
UDP 8,651 votes 1.07%
Labour 2,729 votes 0.34%
Workers Party 1,989 votes 0.25%
Conservatives 1,835 votes 0.23%
Brian Wilson (Ind) 1,327 votes 0.16%
Paddy McGowan (Ind Community) 1,269 votes 0.16%
Mary Allen (Ind) 1,227 votes 0.15%
Ulster Independence Movement 1,140 votes 0.14%
Nat Law Party 832 votes 0.10%
Socialists 789 votes 0.10%
Greens 710 votes 0.09%
Oliver McMullen (Ind Nat) 478 votes 0.06%
Robert Lindsay Mason (Pro-Agreement Independent) 424 votes 0.05%
Agnes Orr (Ind Community Candidate) 201 votes 0.02%
Chris McCaughan (Ind) 194 votes  0.02%
Laurence O'Kane (Community and Environmental Conservation Campaign) 171 votes 0.02%
Patrick O'Connor (Ind Labour) 121 votes 0.01%
Brian Silcock (Ind) 101 votes 0.01%
Christopher Carter (Ulster's Independent Voice) 72 votes 0.01%
Delores Quinn (Ind Nat Community Candidate) 50 votes 0.01%
John Lawrence (Energy 106) 15 votes 0.00%
Ind Unionists 23,089 votes 2.85% 3 seats

This graph contrasts the 1998 Assembly election result with the elections of the Assembly in 2003, theForum in 1996, the Assembly in 1982, the Constitutional Convention in 1975 and the Assembly in 1973. Here are more details.


This was a very bad election for the UUP, whose vote has never been lower. It was disappointing for Alliance and for the UDP. The UKUP and Women's Coalition made the breakthrough that the PUP had hoped for. The DUP and Sinn Fein performed slightly better than in previous elections. But the SDLP were most delighted to outpoll everyone else for the first time ever.

The closest results were:

  1. Danny O'Connor of the SDLP defeated Jack McKee of the DUP by 49 votes in East Antrim
  2. Carmel Hanna of the SDLP defeated Steve McBride of the Alliance Party by 151 votes in South Belfast (with some votes undistributed which would have made the final result closer)
  3. Cedric Wilson of the UKUP defeated Danny McCarthy of the SDLP by 159 votes in Strangford
  4. Independent Unionist Fraser Agnew defeated Martin Morgan of the SDLP by 289 votes in North Belfast
  5. Peter Weir of the UUP defeated Alan Graham of the DUP by 308 votes in North Down (ironically he then joined the DUP in 2002).
Subsequent developments: On July 1, 1998, David Trimble, leader of the UUP, and Séamus Mallon, deputy leader of the SDLP, were elected First Minister and Deputy First Minister respectively. Lord Alderdice had resigned as leader of the Alliance Party immediately after the election and was appointed Initial Presiding Officer of the Assembly by the Secretary of State.
The three members elected as independent Unionists formed a new United Unionist Assembly Party in September 1998, and four of the five UKUP Assembly members formed a new Northern Ireland Unionist Party in January 1999.
On 15 July 1999, Séamus Mallon resigned as Deputy First Minister, but his resignation was rescinded on 29 November by a vote of the Assembly and the Ministers and committee posts were appointed.
From 30 November 1999 one of the NIUP (ex-UKUP) Assembly Members (Roger Hutchinson) sat as an independent Unionist.
At the point of devolution of powers Lord Alderdice became Speaker rather than Presiding Officer.
The Assembly and all the associated institutions were suspended from 12 February 2000, and restored to operation on 30 May 2000.
Two DUP Ministers resigned on 27 July and were replaced by two other MLA's from the same party.
John Hume announced on 30 August 2000 that he would soon resign his seat in the Assembly, and did so on 1 December; his Foyle seat was taken by Annie Courtney, also of the SDLP.
Tom Benson, MLA for Strangford from the UUP, died on 24 December 2000; his seat was filled by Tom Hamilton, also of the UUP.
Roger Hutchinson MLA joined the DUP on 16 November 2000, having been expelled from the NIUP (he was originally elected for the UKUP.)
David Trimble resigned as First Minister on 1 July 2001. Sir Reg Empey and Seamus Mallon fulfilled the duties of First Minister and Deputy First Minister until November 6th (with gaps as noted below).
John Taylor took the title Lord Kilclooney, gazetted on 17 July 2001.
The Assembly and all the associated institutions were again suspended for 24 hours on 11 August 2001, and once more on 22 September.
Two DUP Ministers resigned on 24 October and were replaced by two other MLA's from the same party.
On 6 November 2001, David Trimble and Mark Durkan were elected First Minister and Deputy first Minister respectively.
Durkan's election as Deputy First Minister necessitated a small reshuffle of the SDLP members of the Executive on 14 December 2001.
A UUP minister resigned and was replaced by another UUP MLA on 20 February 2002.
Peter Weir MLA joined the DUP on 29 April 2002; he had originally been elected for the UUP.
The two DUP Ministers resigned on 11 October 2002.
The institutions were all suspended from 15 October 2002.

Westminster (and Strasbourg and Oireachtas) records

Ian Paisley (Sr) and John Hume are also both members of the Westminster House of Commons and of the European Parliament. Seven other Assembly members (Gerry Adams, John Taylor as he then was, Séamus Mallon, Bob McCartney, Martin McGuinness, Peter Robinson and David Trimble) were also Westminster MPs at the time of the 1998 election. In 2001 Taylor retired and got a peerage, and McCartney lost his seat, but four more MLA's won seats at Westminster - Nigel Dodds and Iris Robinson for the DUP, and Michelle Gildernew and Pat Doherty for Sinn Féin. Lord Alderdice as a life peer was already sitting in the House of Lords at the time of the 1998 election; he has now been joined by John Taylor whose title is Lord Kilclooney.

Several candidates - Mallon, Sam McAughtrey, Brid Rodgers - had been members of the Irish Senate though none (I think) had ever been TDs, and none were Senators at the time of the election.

Of the 125 candidates in the 1997 Westminster election, 84 also stood in the 1998 Assembly election (16 SDLP, 13 Sinn Féin, 13 Natural Law Party, 10 Alliance, 9 DUP, 7 UUP, 6 Workers Party, 2 PUP, 2 Women's Coalition and one Green, one UKUP, one Independent and one Independent Labour who stood as Labour in 1998).
Of these, 48 were actually elected to the Assembly (15 SDLP, 7 UUP, 8 DUP, 8 Sinn Féin, 5 Alliance, and one each from UKUP, PUP and Women's Coalition). As noted above nine were elected also to Westminster (no MP stood unsuccessfully for the Assembly, unlike in 1982).

Ten candidates switched constituency between the 1997 Westminster election and the 1998 Assembly election as follows: Eileen Bell (Alliance) stood in Foyle in 1997 and North Down in 1998; Yvonne Boyle (Alliance) stood in East Londonderry in 1997 and Mid Ulster in 1998; Annie Campbell (Women's Coalition) stood in South Belfast in 1997 and Lagan Valley in 1998; Mary Daly (Natural Law Party) stood in West Belfast in 1997 and Mid-Ulster in 1998; David Ervine (PUP) stood in South Belfast in 1997 and East Belfast in 1998; Patricia Lewsley (SDLP) stood in East Belfast in 1997 and Lagan Valley in 1998; Maura McCann (Natural Law Party) stood in East Antrim in 1997 and East Londonderry in 1998; Tom Mullins (Natural Law Party) stood in North Down in 1997 and South Down in 1998; Garret O Fachtna (Sinn Féin) stood in Strangford in 1997 and South Down in 1998; and Hughie Smyth (PUP) stood in South Antrim in 1997 and West Belfast in 1998. Of the ten, none was elected in 1997 and Bell, Ervine and Lewsley were elected in 1998.

All five Westminster election candidates in Newry and Armagh stood again for the Assembly, and three were elected. All five Westminster candidates in Foyle also stood for the Assembly and four were elected, but as noted above one of them had switched to North Down, where she had better luck. Eight of the candidates in South Belfast in 1997 were also candidates for the Assembly in 1998, but Alastair McDonnell was the only candidate elected from South Belfast in 1998 who had also been a candidate there in 1997 (David Ervine was elected for East Belfast).

Comparison with previous regional elections

The turnover of personnel between the 1996 Forum and the 1998 Assembly is quite striking. Only 61 of the 110 Forum members were elected to the new Assembly which I would describe as a high rate of change. Of the 90 members elected from constituency lists to the Forum, almost a quarter (8 UUP, 7 DUP, 5 SF, one each from Alliance and SDLP) did not seek election in 1998, and another 15 (8 UUP, 3 each from DUP and SDLP, and one Alliance) were rejected by the voters. Of the 20 elected by the 'top-up' portion of the Forum election, 6 did not stand again (2 SDLP, one each from UUP, SF, UKUP and Labour), 6 did try their luck in constituencies but were unsuccessful (2 UDP, and one each from DUP, PUP, NIWC and Labour) and 8 were elected to the new Assembly (2 Alliance, one each from UUP, DUP, SF, UKUP, PUP and NIWC). 47 out of 108 members of the new Assembly, including over half of the Assembly members of the largest party (the UUP), were not elected in 1996. Only one Forum member (Martin McGuinness) sought election in 1998 in a different constituency to 1996.

19 members of the 1998 Assembly, Gerry Adams (SF), Fraser Agnew (UUAP - previously UUP), Billy Bell (UUP), Gregory Campbell (DUP), Seamus Close (Alliance), Ivan Davis (UUP - previously DUP), Sean Farren (SDLP), Denis Haughey (SDLP), Joe Hendron (SDLP), John Hume (SDLP), Séamus Mallon (SDLP), Bob McCartney (UKUP - previously UUP), Eddie McGrady (SDLP), William McCrea (DUP), Sean Neeson (Alliance), Ian Paisley (DUP), Peter Robinson (DUP), John Taylor (UUP) and Jim Wells (DUP) were all elected to the 1982-86 Assembly, though of course only the Unionists and Alliance took their seats.

David Trimble (UUP - previously Vanguard), Sir Reg Empey (UUP - previously Vanguard), Billy Bell (UUP), Joe Hendron (SDLP), John Hume (SDLP), Séamus Mallon (SDLP), Eddie McGrady (SDLP), Ian Paisley (DUP), and John Taylor (UUP) were all elected to the 1975 Constitutional Convention.

Former UUP deputy leader Lord Kilclooney (John Taylor), former SDLP leader John Hume, his colleagues Séamus Mallon and Eddie McGrady, and DUP leader Ian Paisley have been elected at all five regional elections since Stormont was abolished. Kilclooney, Hume and Paisley all served in the Stormont House of Commons as well.

Local Councillors

184 of the candidates for the Assembly had also been candidates in the local government elections of 1997 (31 UUP, 29 SDLP, 28 DUP, 21 SF, 20 Alliance, 9 Workers Party, 7 PUP, 5 UDP, 4 Women's Coalition, 4 Natural Law Party, 3 UKUP, 2 Socialists, 2 Greens, 2 Conservatives, 2 Labour, and 15 others).
Of these 184, 141 had been elected as councillors in May 1997 (29 UUP, 27 SDLP, 26 DUP, 20 SF, 13 Alliance, 5 PUP, 4 UDP, 2 UKUP, one each for the Women's Coalition, Socialists and Conservatives, and 12 others).
66 of these 141 were also elected to the Assembly (17 SDLP, 16 UUP, 15 DUP, 9 SF, 5 Alliance, 2 PUP and 2 Independent Unionists).
Of these 66, 38 had been elected to the Forum/Talks in 1996 (12 DUP, 8 SDLP, 7 UUP, 6 SF, 4 Alliance and 1 PUP).
16 local councillors had also been elected to the Forum/Talks in 1996 and stood unsuccessfully for the Assembly (5 UUP, 4 SDLP including Paddy McGowan who stood as an independent in 1998, 4 DUP and one each from Alliance, the PUP and the UDP).
And finally, two of those elected in 1996 stood unsuccessfully in both the 1997 local government elections and the 1998 Assembly elections (Pearl Sagar of the Women's Coalition and May Steele of the UUP).

In East Londonderry all six of the MLA's elected in June 1998 were also local councillors at the time of the election, though one (Gregory Campbell) represented an area outside the constituency. In Foyle, East Belfast and North Belfast all but one of the MLA's were local councillors at the time of the election, the "odd men out" being respectively John Hume, Lord Alderdice and Gerry Kelly (though in North Belfast Fraser Agnew represents a local council electoral area that borders but does not overlap with the North Belfast constituency). At the other extreme, in North Down only Eileen Bell of the Alliance Party is both an MLA and a local councillor.

Ten of the thirteen candidates who had stood in the Belfast Laganbank electoral area in the 1997 local government elections also stood in the 1998 Assembly elections, including all five councillors. Only two (Alastair McDonnell and Michael McGimpsey) were successful.

It is striking that only four candidates of the 40 who failed to get elected to their local council in 1997 found their luck turning in 1998 (Patricia Lewsley of the SDLP, Peter Weir of the UUP, Michelle Gildernew of SF, Norman Boyd of the UKUP). Three of these four (Weir, Lewsley and Boyd) probably did not expect to win in 1998 either. Only Peter Weir of the four had been elected to the Forum/Talks in 1996.

Women in the Assembly election

14 women were elected to the Assembly in 1998 (5 Sinn Fein, 3 SDLP, 2 Women's Coalition, 2 UUP and one each from the Alliance Party and DUP). Two represent each of the following constituencies: North Down, Fermanagh/South Tyrone, West Befast, South Belfast, and Upper Bann. The others represent East Londonderry, Lagan Valley, Foyle and Strangford. (They have since been joined by a fifteenth woman, Annie Courtney, who replaced John Hume as a representative for Foyle in 2000.) The constituency with the highest first preference vote for women candidates was Upper Bann (16,196 - 32%). The least advanced constituency in this respect was Mid Ulster (535 - 1%).

49 candidates out of 296 were women. On average they were slightly less successful in getting elected than men (36% of all candidates were elected, 29% of all female candidates, 38% of all male candidates). The parties in order of the proportion of women among their candidates are the Women's Coalition (100%), Alliance (27.3%), Natural Law Party (22.2%), Sinn Fein (21.6%), Conservatives (16.7%), SDLP (15.8%), DUP (11.8%), Workers Party (11.1%), Labour (10%), PUP and UUP (8.3%), and UKUP (7.7%). Some of the smaller parties which got nobody elected ran no women candidates at all (UDP, Greens). 63% of male DUP candidates were elected to the Assembly, but only one of their four female candidates (Iris Robinson) was similarly fortunate. The only party whose women candidates were more successful than their men was Sinn Fein (since the Women's Coalition ran no male candidates, no comparison is possible). Thanks to Professor Connie Rynder of the University of Tampa for clarifying some of these points with me.

Constituency List

This graphic shows the geographical distribution of seats by party in the election.

East Belfast 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance (now Speaker), 1 PUP
North Belfast 1 SF, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 PUP, 1 Ind U (now UUAP)
South Belfast 2 UUP, 2 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 NIWC
West Belfast 4 SF, 2 SDLP
East Antrim 2 UUP, 1 DUP, 1 Alliance, 1 UKUP (then NIUP now Ind U), 1 SDLP
North Antrim 3 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SDLP
South Antrim 2 UUP, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 UKUP (now NIUP), 1 Alliance
North Down 3 UUP (one of whom later joined the DUP), 1 UKUP, 1 Alliance, 1 NIWC
South Down 3 SDLP, 1 SF, 1 UUP, 1 DUP
Fermanagh and South Tyrone 2 UUP, 2 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP
Foyle 3 SDLP, 2 SF, 1 DUP
Lagan Valley 2 UUP, 1 DUP, 1 Alliance, 1 UKUP (now NIUP), 1 SDLP
East Londonderry 2 UUP (one of whom is currently whipless), 2 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 Ind U (now UUAP)
Mid Ulster 3 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 UUP
Newry and Armagh 2 SDLP, 2 SF, 1 UUP, 1 DUP
Strangford 2 UUP, 2 DUP, 1 Alliance, 1 UKUP (now NIUP)
West Tyrone 2 SF, 2 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 UUP
Upper Bann 2 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 SF, 1 DUP, 1 Ind U (then UUAP)

As in 1996, the election system for the new Assembly to be set up under the Agreement was a controversial issue and came close to derailing the entire process in the early hours of Good Friday. Some of the smaller parties wanted some form of the 'top-up' system used in 1996 retained. In the end the political compromise was that all eighteen constituencies would elect not five but six members of the new body by Single Transferable Vote. This actually has resulted in some distortion. Jim Riley has pointed out (in a post to uk.politics.electoral on 9 November 1998) that it would have been more proportional for the four constituencies with the largest electorate (North Antrim, Lagan Valley, Newry/Armagh and South Down) to elect seven members of the Assembly, and for the four smallest (West Tyrone, East Antrim, East Londonderry and Mid Ulster) to elect five. However he further concluded that the results would have been much the same (SDLP losses in East Antrim and West Tyrone offset by gains in Newry/Armagh and South Down; SF loss in Mid-Ulster offset by gain in North Antrim; Ulster Unionist loss in East Londonderry offset by gain in Lagan Valley). 

See also: Jim Riley's analysis of votes and seats in the 1998 Assembly election | List of all 1998 candidates

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, 3 June 1998; modified 14 October 2002.

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Disclaimer:© Nicholas Whyte 1998-2004 Last Updated on Wednesday, 12-Jan-2005 12:12