The effect of the Jenkins Report in Northern Ireland

by Nicholas Whyte

The Jenkins Commission Report on reform of the electoral system in the UK recommended that the House of Commons should in future be elected by a system where most MPs are elected in single-seat constituencies, by the Alternative Vote (i.e. Single Transferable Vote for one seat), and about 15% are then elected from regional lists to produce a more proportional result. It seems currently very unlikely that this proposal will ever be implemented; the more likely revisions are those envisaged by the Boundary Commission.

The Jenkins Commission's recommendations for Northern Ireland were that there should be 14 single-member constituencies grouped into two regions as follows:

Each of the two regions would then elect another two members from regional lists.

For what it's worth, the 2001 elections point towards the following likely new boundaries and probable results if this system is adopted soon:

"Jenkins East"

North Antrim is already the largest (in population terms) of the Northern Ireland constituencies, and requires only a few thousand more voters to bring it up to the right size. These probably come from the northern end of East Antrim; most of the rest of East Antrim goes back into South Antrim (as it was before 1982), and North Belfast extends further into Newtownabbey, taking in either Jordanstown or more likely Glengormley.

North Belfast will then need to shed some territory to West Belfast, certainly including the bits of the Shankill it currently contains but possibly also inclding the New Lodge and parts of Ardoyne. East and South Belfast extend further into Castlereagh, absorbing Dundonald and Carryduff respectively; South Belfast may also need to include Dunmurry and nearer fringes of Lisburn.

North Down expands to take in the Ards Peninsula and Newtownards. The bits left over from Lagan Valley and Strangford are sufficient for a new Mid Down constituency. Effectively the two seats that disappear are East Antrim and Strangford.

Results for individual seats: The Alternative Vote system drastically favours the UUP who even on their recent appalling form would have a chance of winning six of the eight seats after transfers, even if the DUP come out ahead in first preferences. The exceptions are the new West Belfast, which on their current form is fairly sure for Sinn Fein, and the expanded North Belfast, where the UUP are so far behind the DUP, but Unionists sufficiently far ahead of Nationalists that the DUP must come out on top. Both Ian Paisley's stronghold of North Antrim, and that of his deputy, Peter Robinson, in the new East Belfast, would be good prospects for the UUP after transfers from everyone else. A projection of the 2001 votes onto new boundaries for single-member AV seats gives the UUP four, the DUP three, and SF one.

List seats: A "proportional" result based on the 2001 elections would have given the UUP (with 33% in the Westminster elections/26% at local government) 3 seats, the DUP (27%/26%) 3 seats, and one each to Alliance (6%/10%), the SDLP (13%/12%) and Sinn Fein (also 13%/12%), with a tenth seat up for grabs (probably going to a straggling Unionist). However the Jenkins system is not proportional; it merely partially corrects the discrepancy between the votes cast and the single-member seats won. The SDLP could therefore certainly expect to get a list seat if the votes are similar to 2001. Alliance's chances of doing so, oddly enough, depend on the DUP. If the DUP win only one constituency seat, Jenkins gives them a second; if they win two, then they and Alliance are both pretty close to qualifying for the last seat; if the DUP win three seats, then Alliance gets a list seat. The projected overall result from 2001 is thus: UUP four, DUP three, SF one, SDLP one, Alliance one.

"Jenkins West"

The Tyrone seats get jumbled up again under Jenkins. Probably a Fermanagh and West Tyrone seat is created; Mid Ulster loses Magherafelt to East Londonderry but gains Dungannon from Fermanagh-South Tyorne; and Foyle absorbs a part of Strabane. There would also be a new Armagh county seat including both Armagh and Craigavon districts; and South Down would absorb both Newry and Banbridge, and perhaps some of the southern fringes of Armagh.

Results for individual seats: East Londonderry and the Armagh County seat will be won by the UUP under Alternative vote, though the latter will be a close run with Sinn Fein. Even on their recent disappointing form, South Down (even including Banbridge) and Foyle are safe for the SDLP; the two Fermanagh and Tyrone seats look good for Sinn Fein, whatever the boundaries - they are far enough ahead of the SDLP, who will not get enough Unionist transfers to make the difference.

List seats: The two Unionist parties are each on about 20% and the two Nationalist parties about 30% each. The DUP are very unlikely to win a constituency seat but have enough votes to entitle them to a list seat. Whichever of the UUP and Sinn Fein does not win Armagh county will be compensated with a list seat. The overall result is thus: SF three, SDLP two, UUP two, DUP one.

And finally

Other twiddles can be envisaged here. One obvious possibility would be to give the whole of Northern Ireland 15 single-member seats, with three then allocated across Northern Ireland by top-up. The fifteenth seat would then be somehere in the Strangford/Upper Bann/Armagh area, since I don't believe the Lower Bann will be breached as a parliamentary boundary. Other smaller variations are possible even with the 8+2/6+2 model particularly considering the integrity of Banbridge and Down distict councils.

The overall result, based on the 2001 votes, would be UUP six with a decent chance of more, DUP four at most, SF four, SDLP three, Alliance one. In the real 2001 elections, the UUP won exactly six seats, the DUP five, Sinn Fein four and the SDLP three. Alliance make one gain from the DUP.

See also: Boundary Commission 2003 | Jim Riley's analysis of votes and seats in the 1998 Assembly election | Single Transferable Vote | Gerrymandering | The constituencies | The political parties | The NI Executive | Useful books and links

Results from 1996 to 2001 for each seat: 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 | Upper Bann

Surveys of each recent election: 2004 European | 2003 Assembly | 2001 Westminster | 2001 local govt | 2000 S Antrim | 1999 European | 1998 Assembly | 1997 local govt | 1997 Westminster | 1996 Forum | 1995 N Down | 1994 European | 1993 local govt | 1992 Westminster | 1989 European | 1989 local govt | 1987 Westminster | 1986 by-elections | 1985 local govt | 1984 European | 1983 Westminster | 1982 Assembly | 1981 local govt | 1979 European | 1979 Westminster | 1977 local govt | 1975 Convention | Oct 1974 Westminster | Feb 1974 Westminster | 1973 Assembly | 1973 local govt | Summary of all Northern Ireland elections since 1973 | Brief summary of election results 1997-2003

Historical pieces: Westminster elections 1885-1910 | The 1918 election | Dáil elections since 1918 | Westminster elections since 1920 | Senate of Southern Ireland 1921 | Irish Senate elections in 1925 | Northern Ireland House of Commons | Northern Ireland Senate

Other sites based at ARK: ORB (Online Research Bank) | CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) | Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey

Front page | Site Map | Notes and Queries | Updates Mailing List | About this site

Your comments, please! Send an email to me at

Nicholas Whyte, 12 December 1998; heavily revised in light of 2001 election results, 10 February 2002.

The Author | What's New | Your Comments

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