Belfast West by-election, 2011

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Belfast West by-election, 2011
United Kingdom
← 2010 9 June 2011 2015 →

The Belfast West seat in the House of Commons.
Elected by simple majority using first past the post. Triggered by resignation of incumbent
Candidate Paul Maskey Alex Attwood
Party Sinn Féin SDLP
Popular vote 16,211 3,088
Percentage 70.6 13.5

Candidate Gerry Carroll Brian Kingston
Party People Before Profit DUP
Popular vote 1,751 1,393
Percentage 7.6 6.1

Map showing the Belfast West Parliamentary constituency within the Northern Ireland.

MP before election

Gerry Adams
Sinn Féin

Subsequent MP

Paul Maskey
Sinn Féin

The Belfast West by-election, 2011 was a by-election for the United Kingdom constituency of Belfast West following the resignation of the constituency's Member of Parliament, Gerry Adams[1] in advance of his candidacy in the 2011 general election in the Republic of Ireland. A writ for a by-election was moved in the House of Commons on 16 May 2011, and the vote took place on 9 June 2011.[2]


Gerry Adams had held Belfast West for Sinn Féin from 1983 to 1992, and continuously since 1997.[3] At the 1992 UK general election and in the 1974 and 1979 elections, the seat was won instead by the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), an Irish nationalist party, but by the 2010 general election, they were a long way behind Adams, the seat being the safest in Northern Ireland and the fourth safest anywhere in the UK.[4] A constituency of the same name, with boundaries identical to the Westminster constituency which existed before the 2010 election, was contested at the 2007 Northern Ireland Assembly election, using the single transferable vote method of election. Sinn Féin candidates won five of the six seats and the SDLP the other.[5]

In 2010, the two main unionist parties, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), both stood candidates in the seat, but took only 10.7% of the vote between them. The DUP did hold one of the six Assembly seats until 2007.[6] Although the UUP have not held their deposit in recent years, they held the Parliamentary seat until 1966.[7]

Vacation of the seat

Members of the House of Commons, whether or not they have taken their seats, cannot resign in form, but a legal fiction has grown up to allow Members to resign in effect. Under Section 4 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, if an MP wishes to vacate their seat, they can request appointment to either of two 'offices of profit under the Crown' which disqualify them from membership. As an Irish republican, Gerry Adams considered a British Crown appointment politically unacceptable, and therefore submitted a letter resigning his seat to the Speaker of the House of Commons on 20 January 2011;[8] he maintained that by doing so he had simply resigned.[9] Notwithstanding that he had not requested it, Adams was on 26 January appointed as Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, a Treasury spokesperson explaining that this appointment had been made "consistent with long-standing precedent".[8] Although David Cameron said during Prime Minister's Questions that Adams had "accepted an office for profit under the Crown", Adams denied this and received an apology from the Prime Minister's Office for not informing him of the procedure and for stating that he had applied for the "post".[10]

Calling the by-election

In order for a by-election to take place, an MP makes a motion in the House of Commons to the Speaker to issue a warrant to the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, who then issues the writ ordering that the election take place. Traditionally, the MP comes from the same party as the member that has stood down.[11] However, because Sinn Féin MPs do not take their seats in the Commons, the writ was moved by the Government Chief Whip, Conservative Patrick McLoughlin MP on 16 May 2011.[12]


Alex Attwood, the Environment Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, and the Social Democratic and Labour Party's candidate for the seat at the 2010 general election was the SDLP candidate for the by-election.[13]

Brian Kingston was the Democratic Unionist Party candidate.[14]

Paul Maskey, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, won the Sinn Féin nomination.[15] Danny Morrison, the former publicity director of Sinn Féin, had suggested that the party should stand aside and instead back a candidacy for former Respect Party MP George Galloway.[16]


Election Political result Candidate Party Votes % ±%
By-election, 2011
Turnout: 22,951 (37.5%) −16.5
Sinn Féin hold
Majority: 13,123 (57.1%) +2.4
Swing: +1.2% from SDLP to SF
Paul Maskey Sinn Féin 16,211 70.6 -0.5
Alex Attwood SDLP 3,088 13.5 -2.9
Gerry Carroll People Before Profit 1,751 7.6 N/A
Brian Kingston DUP 1,393 6.1 -1.5
Bill Manwaring UUP 386 1.7 -1.4
Aaron McIntyre Alliance 122 0.5 -1.4
General Election 2010
Turnout: 32,133 (54.0%) -13.5
Sinn Féin hold
Majority: 17,579 (54.7%)
Swing: +1.1% from SDLP to SF
Gerry Adams Sinn Féin 22,840 71.1 +2.5
Alex Attwood SDLP 5,261 16.4 +0.3
William Humphrey DUP 2,436 7.6 -3.3
Bill Manwaring UCU-NF 1,000 3.1 +0.6
Márie Hendron Alliance 596 1.9 +1.8

See also


  1. "Manor of Northstead". HM Treasury. 26 January 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Notice of election" (PDF). Belfast Area Electoral Office. 19 May 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Gerry Adams resigns as West Belfast MP BBC News
  4. "Constituencies in order of % Majority after the 2010 General Election". 13 January 2011. Retrieved 20 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. West Belfast 2007, Northern Ireland Elections
  6. West Belfast, Northern Ireland Elections
  7. West Belfast 1950-1970, Northern Ireland Elections
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Adams 'becomes baron'". The Irish Times. 26 January 2011. Archived from the original on 27 January 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Adams comments on Cameron claims
  10. "Downing Street apology for Gerry Adams". BBC Online. 26 January 2011. Archived from the original on 1 February 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Microsoft Word - M07 - Parliamentary Elections.doc" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Go-ahead given for Belfast poll - Northern Ireland, Local & National". 2011-05-16. Retrieved 2011-05-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "(Andersonstown News) - The Candidate". Belfast Media. 2011-03-24. Retrieved 2011-05-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. - DUP Nomination for West Belfast by-election, 24 May 2011
  15. "Paul Maskey 'wants to run for West Belfast'". 2011-05-11. Archived from the original on 12 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Martina Purdy, "Galloway to run for West Belfast?", BBC News, 21 January 2011