South Antrim by-election, 2000


South Antrim by-election, 2000

Clifford Forsythe, the Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament for South Antrim, died on April 27, 2000, precipitating a by-election.

Candidates

The election arose after the Good Friday Agreement, with prisoner releases having started, but before the pro-agreement parties had reached agreement on the shape of a devolved government. After a disputatious selection contest, the London-based public relations executive David Burnside was selected as the new Ulster Unionist Party candidate. Burnside claimed to have supported the Agreement at the time of its negotiation but to have since turned against the way in which it was being implemented. However this was at odds with his party's policy. This was seized upon by the Democratic Unionist Party candidate, former Mid-Ulster MP Rev. William McCrea in campaigning. McCrea campaigned on a policy of refusal to co-operate with Sinn Féin in the absence of progress on arms decommissioning.

The Northern Ireland Unionist Party initially selected Norman Boyd, who was a local member of the Northern Ireland Assembly (elected as a member of the United Kingdom Unionist Party). However during the campaign Boyd withdrew, urging voters not to divide the anti-agreement vote, and supported McCrea. Although the Progressive Unionist Party had secured 8.7% of the vote at the previous general election, they did not stand on this occasion.

The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland selected David Ford, who was a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the area and who had previously fought the seat in the 1997 general election. With all the Unionist candidates opposed to the Good Friday Agreement to some degree, Ford hoped to gain the support of pro Agreement unionist voters. However with the Unionist parties fighting fiercely, Ford faced the difficult task of convincing voters that a vote for the Alliance was not wasted, especially when many who supported the Agreement argued that the best realistic result for maintaining it would be for Burnside to win the seat.

The nationalist SDLP also ran their local assembly member, in this case Donovan McClelland. With the constituency overwhelmingly Protestant the SDLP had no chance of winning and much of the spotlight on them concerned their electoral battle with Sinn Féin as a prelude to forthcoming Assembly elections. Sinn Féin had no Assembly members but ran Martin Meehan, who had been their sole Assembly candidate the last time, in the hope of increasing his profile and building up their local organisation in preparation for a shot at the next election. The battle between McClelland and Meehan attracted much attention as it would indicate the movement of votes within the nationalist community between the two parties, though most agreed that it was always likely for the SDLP to come out on top in the highly middle-class constituency.

In addition the Natural Law Party selected David Collins. This was to be one of the last occasions that the party would fight an election in Northern Ireland.

Campaign

With delays over the selection and the summer holiday intervening, polling day in the by-election was held off until September 21, allowing extensive campaigning. The constituency is strongly Protestant and it was always clear that the real contest was between the two Unionist parties. Away from these two, interest was piqued by the advance of Sinn Féin, overtaking the Alliance in the number of votes won. Many believed that this hearalded the former party subsequently taking the latter's Assembly seat in the next assembly election, but in the event Ford narrowly held on.

Results

Election box candidate with party link
party = Democratic Unionist Party
candidate = William McCrea
votes = 11,601
percentage = 38.0
change = "N/A"
Election box candidate with party link
party = Ulster Unionist Party
candidate = David Burnside
votes = 10,779
percentage = 35.3
change = -22.2
Election box candidate with party link
party = Social Democratic and Labour Party
candidate = Donovan McClelland
votes = 3,496
percentage = 11.4
change = -4.7
Election box candidate with party link
party = Sinn Féin
candidate = Martin Meehan
votes = 2,611
percentage = 8.5
change = +3.0
Election box candidate with party link
party = Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
candidate = David Ford
votes = 2,031
percentage = 6.6
change = -5.0
Election box candidate with party link
party = Natural Law Party
candidate = David Collins
votes = 49
percentage = 0.2
change = -0.3
Election box majority
votes = 822
percentage = 2.7
change =
Election box turnout
votes =
percentage = 43
change =
Election box gain with party link
winner = Democratic Unionist Party
loser = Ulster Unionist Party
swing = 5.7

General Election result, 1997

Election box begin
title=General Election 1997: South Antrim
Election box candidate with party link
party = Ulster Unionist Party
candidate = Clifford Forsythe
votes = 23,108
percentage = 57.5
change = -13.9
Election box candidate with party link
party = Social Democratic and Labour Party
candidate = Donovan McClelland
votes = 6,497
percentage = 16.2
change = +2.6
Election box candidate with party link
party = Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
candidate = David Ford
votes = 4,668
percentage = 11.6
change = +0.7
Election box candidate with party link
party = Sinn Féin
candidate = H. J. Cushinan
votes = 2,229
percentage = 5.5
change = +2.5
Election box candidate with party link
party = Natural Law Party
candidate = B. A. Briggs
votes = 203
percentage = 0.5
change = "N/A"
Election box majority
votes = 16,611
percentage = 41.3
change =
Election box turnout
votes =
percentage = 57.8
change =
Election box hold with party link
winner = Ulster Unionist Party
swing =

ee also

*List of United Kingdom by-elections

External links

* [http://www.geocities.com/by_elections/southantrim00.html British Parliamentary By Elections: Campaign literature from the by-election]


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