10 Aug 2022

2019 Council Elections: A look at the Ballyarnett District Electoral Area

Ballyarnett Map

With 23,332 people within its boundaries, in terms of population the Ballyarnett District Electoral Area (DEA) is the second largest in the Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC) area.

Data gathered at the 2011 Census shows that this DEA has a higher proportion of children than comparable rates for DCSDC as a whole as well as Northern Ireland. Those age under 16 make up approximately 27% of the Ballyarnett population compared with rates of 22% and 21% for the council area and Northern Ireland respectively.

As a result of the more youthful population this is reflected at the opposite end of the age scale where only 9% of the Ballyarnett population are aged 65 and over compared with 12% in the whole council area and 15% across Northern Ireland.

There are approximately 8,000 households in the local area. The largest category in terms of this are two people households. It is estimated that there were 2,410 such households at the 2011 Census accounting for 27% of all households in the DEA.

There are 15% or 1,240 households containing five or more people. As a result, Ballyarnett has the highest number of households across the entire council area.

According to the 2011 figures, 58% of the residents in the Ballyarnett DEA are economically active. This rate is slightly lower than that of DCSDC (60%) and also lower than the Northern Ireland wide average of 67%.

The Ballyarnett DEA has six seats and this time 11 candidates are seeking them. That represents two more candidates than 2014 when nine people contested the poll.

This year’s candidates are Nuala Crilly (People Before Profit Alliance), Sandra Duffy (Sinn Fein), Angela Dobbins (SDLP), Rory Farrell (SDLP), Anne McCloskey (Aontu), Danny McCloskey (Alliance Party), Caoimhe McKnight (Sinn Fein), Neil McLaughlin (Sinn Fein), Aileen Mellon (Sinn Fein), Brian Tierney (SDLP) and Warren Robinson (Independent).

Five of these candidates are outgoing councillors: These are Sandra Duffy (Sinn Fein), Angela Dobbins (SDLP), Caoimhe McKinight (Sinn Fein), Aileen Mellon (Sinn Fein), Brian Tierney (SDLP) and Warren Robinson (Independent).

In 2014 the eligible electorate in Ballyarnett was 15.987. The Turnout was just below 50% (49.9%) or 7,864. There were 74 spoiled votes meaning that the valid vote was 7,690 and the quota to be elected was set at 1,099.

Sinn Fein’s Sandra Duffy topped the poll and was elected on the first count with 1,163 votes (15.2%). Also elected on the first count was the SDLP’s Angela Dobbins on 1,155 (15.02%).

Next elected was Sinn Fein’s Tony Hasson on the second count with 1,101 votes (14.2%). Brian Tierney of the SDLP was elected on the fifth count on 1,423 votes (12.52%). Dermot Quigley on 1,105 (13.49%) was also elected on the fifth count. The sixth and final seat was taken by Elisha McCallion of Sinn Fein on 1,062 votes (12.81%).

Those eliminated were Jimmy Carr (SDLP) on the fifth count after he polled 690 votes (7.87%), Colm O’Connor (SDLP) on the fourth count on 617 (7.17%) and Danny McCloskey (Alliance Party) on 139 votes (1.81%).

The interesting battle here will be the final outcome for Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

Last time both parties had enough votes to achieve almost three quotas each. But, while in 2014 the SDLP beat Sinn Fein in terms of first preferences they didn't in terms of seats. Sinn Fein's three candidates took three seats whilst the SDLP emerged with two seats from four candidates.

This has undoubtedly been a factor in the SDLP decision to stand three candidates here this time as opposed to four. But, possibly buoyed by the 2014 result, Sinn Fein have increased their candidate list to four from three last time.

Having incumbent representatives is always a boost for political parties at elections. In Angela Dobbins and Brian Tierney, the SDLP have two outgoing councillors and ones that are well-known in this DEA. Rory Farrell is a first time candidate in the Ballyarnett DEA but has contested an election before. In 2014 he stood in the Foyleside DEA and finished on 841 votes when the quota was 1,062. He has a strong foothold in the Ballyarnett DEA by virtue of the fact that he is the manager of Colum Eastwood's constituency office which is based in the district.

However, wisely perhaps, the SDLP appear to seem content to consolidate on the performance of 2014 or with a having an outside possibility of a third seat having obviously abandoned any notion of electoral supremacy by fielding one less candidate this time.

The retirement of Sinn Fein's Tony Hasson will see them face this election without a highly seasoned campaigner and vote winner. Mr Hasson was initially replaced on council by Conchur McCauley and then by Aileen Mellon after Mr McCauley resigned. And, the election of Elisha McCallion as MP for Foyle saw her replaced by Caoimhe McKnight at the Guildhall, whilst Neil McLaughlin is a newcomer to the electoral field.

This means that Sinn Fein's Sandra Duffy is her party's sole surviving runner from 2014 in this DEA. But, Sinn Fein seem confident of not only retaining three seats but at least getting close to claiming a fourth. The confidence of the move may be well placed based on their last outing in Ballyarnett and a surge in their Assembly and Westminster votes of 2017, but could prove a step too far in terms of actual results.

The entry into the race by Dr Anne McCloskey could well prove a thorn in the side of Sinn Fein and the SDLP. The Aontu candidate has recently retired after 28 years as a GP in Shantallow and has a ready made voting base simply because of that factor alone.

Dr McCloskey is widely regarded as the new republican party's best hope of taking a seat in the North during these elections. And, it's not the first time that Anne McCloskey has dipped her toes in electoral waters. She stood as a Independent at the 2016 Assembly contest and finished on a very credible 3,410 first preference votes. She was only eliminated on the eighth count on 4,227 votes after Eamonn McCann took the final seat in Foyle on 5,394. She is poised to poll strongly.

Independent Councillor Warren Robinson replaced Dee (Dermot) Quigley as Independent on Derry City and Strabane District Council when the latter emigrated with his family to Australia. Mr Quigley narrowly missed being elected on the first count in Ballyarnett last time but was elected on the fifth count.  But, the fact that an Independent has had a seat here and there's been an intervening five years to consolidate a base might help Warren Robinson retain a seat in this DEA.

Nuala Crilly is the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA) candidate in Ballyarnett. PBPA did not field in this DEA in 2014 so there is nothing in terms of statistics to gauge the likelihood of success. It is however very difficult to see this candidate making a breakthrough here given the competitive nature of the line-up.

Without the presence of Anne McCloskey in the Ballyarnett DEA a solid bet would have been that the post election scene would have been the same as 2014. However, the fact that she is running may well have an impact on the outcome in a number of ways.

More conservative voters will approve of her stance on abortion and that could impact on both the SDLP and Sinn Fein. The Independent voters that gave her a first preference at the Assembly contest in 2016 may be tempted to give her another shout on the ballot paper and her personal contact base through her previous job should not be underestimated.

Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP will also be strongly hoping that Aontu and PBPA might spilt the Independent vote and allow one of their candidates to get across the line.

Overall, Sinn Fein and the SDLP should account for at least four of the six seats up for grabs in Ballyarnett. But, the one to watch here is Aontu's Anne McCloskey and the fact that her vote will impact on the two main parties and Warren Robinson whether she is elected or not.

CAPTION: A map of the Ballyarnett District Electoral Area.

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