Northern Ireland local elections, 1985

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Northern Ireland local elections, 1985
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← 1981 15 May 1985 1989 →

All council seats
  First party Second party Third party
Seats won 189 142 102
Seat change Increase 37 Steady Decrease 2

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
Party Sinn Féin Alliance Independent
Seats won 59 34 9
Seat change Increase 59 Decrease 4 Decrease 28

Colours denote the winning party with outright control

Colours denote the party with the most seats

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Elections for local government were held in Northern Ireland on 15 May 1985, contesting 565 seats in all.


1981 elections

The previous elections had been fought in the middle of the hunger strike and the H-Block Prison Protest.[1] Those elections had shown changes in party representation, with three parties, namely the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), winning 75% of the seats.[2] On the Unionist side, the DUP arrived at a position of near parity with the UUP, outpolling the latter by 851 votes,[2] although the UUP managed to win more seats overall. Other changes on the Unionist side saw the disbandment of two smaller Unionist parties: the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland in September 1981 and the United Ulster Unionist Party in May 1984. On the nationalist side, while the SDLP maintained its dominant position, a greater number of elected candidates supporting the H-Block protest were elected. In total 36 candidates endorsed by the H-Block committee were elected of whom 21 belonged to the IIP. The representation of the centrist APNI was almost halved as their number of seats was reduced from 70 in 1977 to 38 in 1981.[2]

Northern Ireland Assembly and New Ireland Forum

Following the end of the Hunger Strike, attention focused on attempts by the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Jim Prior, to restore devolution. This eventually led to the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly which was elected in October 1982. However nationalist parties boycotted the forum and the SDLP instead threw its efforts into the New Ireland Forum. This forum, established in May 1983, reported in May 1984 and represented the combined efforts of the nationalist parties to obtain a solution to the constitutional issue. However the report was rejected by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who rejected each of the three proposals with the words “that is out” in a response that became known as the "out, out, out" speech.[3]

Sinn Féin

The entry into electoral politics of Sinn Féin (SF) became a significant issue in the run up to the elections. SF polled over 10% in the 1982 Assembly election, winning five seats. At the 1983 Westminster election, the party increased their vote share to 13.4% and maintained that level of support in the 1984 European election. The party won their first council seat in a by-election in March 1983, with Seamus Kerr polling 60% in Omagh ‘Area D’ This was followed by the election of Alex Maskey and Sean McKnight to Belfast City Council in June 1983 and February 1984 respectively. In Dungannon and Fermanagh, independent councillors Seamus Cassidy and John Joe McCusker joined SF.

Prior's successor as Secretary of State, Douglas Hurd, refused to ban SF and also rejected calls by unionists for an anti-violence declaration to be signed by all candidates.[4]:5


The expansion of services, particularly leisure began to have an impact in rates at a time when the Rate Support Grant was being cut. The grant was reduced by 1% in 1985. Belfast Leisure Services in particular accounted for 22.7% of the City budget.[4]:5 Rates overall had risen by 8% in the financial year from 1984 to 1985, a figure above the rate of inflation and resulted in the cancellation of a proposed ice rink in Belfast, while that in Bangor had to receive private funding. Since the 1980–1981 financial year, rates had risen by 51.7%[4]:6 ranging from a 17.9% rise in Castlereagh to 80% rises in Omagh and Newry and Mourne.[4]:6



The Local Government (N.I.) Act 1972, Section 50 (1) required a review of local government boundaries and electoral areas in 1981, however it was not until 28 October 1982 that Prior reappointed Sir F. Harrison, who had conducted the previous review in 1971 and 1972. Provisional recommendations were published on 20 May 1983. These led to additional representations and nineteen public hearings before revised recommendations were published on 18 January 1984. Following six further public hearings, the final report was sent to the Secretary of State on 29 May 1984.[4]:9

The report recommended no change in the number of councils or their names. The number of wards was increased from 526 to 566. Moyle was the only council to lose a ward.

With the wards drawn the government decided that a new procedure would be used to group them together to form District Electoral Areas (DEA). In 1972 the wards had been grouped together into areas of four to eight wards with each area electing a number of councillors equal to the number of wards that it contained. This had been done by the Chief Electoral Officer, a fact that had been criticised for potentially affecting his impartiality.

The District Electoral Areas Commissioner (N.I.) Order was laid before Parliament on 15 December 1983. This provided for the appointment of a commissioner and set him the task of creating electoral areas containing five to seven members. These were to have names rather than an alphabetic designation as before. The debate over the Order in January and February 1984 centred on the merits of STV, the narrower number of councillors in each DEA and the names issue. Unionists argued for DEAs electing four to six councillors.


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Party[5] Councillors Votes
Total +/-  % share Total
UUP 189 +37 29.5 188,497
DUP 142 0 24.3 155,297
SDLP 102 -2 17.8 113,967
Sinn Féin 59 N/A 11.8 75,686
Alliance 34 -4 7.0 45,038
Independent 9 -28 1.6 10,297
Independent Unionist 8 +6 1.3 8,780
Independent Nationalist 6 +6 1.2 7,597
Workers' Party 4 +1 1.6 10,415
Irish Independence 4 -17 1.2 7,459
Ulster Popular Unionist 3 -2 0.5 3,139
PUP 2 +1 0.6 3,612
Protestant Unionist 1 +1 0.5 2,970
NI Labour 1 0 0.2 1,285
Labour Party NI 0 N/A 0.2 1,029
Newtownabbey Labour 1 0 0.1 792
Ulster Democratic 0 N/A 0.1 782
Labour and Trade Union 0 N/A 0.1 556
Independent Democratic Unionist 0 N/A 0.1 429
Ecology 0 0 0.1 387
Irish Republican Socialist 0 -2 0.0 276
Communist Party 0 0 0.0 245
All Night Party 0 N/A 0.0 235
Independent Republican 0 0 0.0 187
People's Democracy 0 -2 0.0 131
Independent Workers' Party 0 N/A 0.0 113
Liberal 0 N/A 0.0 35
Independent Labour 0 -1 0.0 30

By council

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Party Candidate 1st Pref
Independent Unionist George Seawright 2,970
PUP Hugh Smyth 1,761
DUP Ted Ashby 1,420
UUP Herbert Ditty 1,197
Independent Unionist Joe Coggle 894
UUP Fred Cobain 804
Alliance W. J. Dukelow 626
UUP J. B. Sands 624
DUP W. Baxter 572
Ulster Democratic S. Doyle 536
Sinn Féin H. Fitzsimmons 432
DUP R. Morrow 182
Workers' Party Peter Cullen 157
Turnout 12,547
New area
Party Candidate 1st Pref
DUP Sammy Wilson 2,454
DUP F. Leslie 2,224
UUP Margaret Clarke 1,999
DUP Jim Walker 1,153
UUP Reg Empey 1,117
Alliance Mervyn Jones 1,019
Sinn Féin Joe O'Donnell 566
UUP H. Fletcher 431
PUP David Ervine 394
SDLP C. Maginnis 340
Workers' Party Frank Cullen 303
Labour and Trade Union S. J. Dempsey 218
Communist Party James Stewart 61
Turnout 12,785
New area
Party Candidate 1st Pref
DUP Wallace Browne 3,447
UUP Tommy Patton 2,390
Alliance Oliver Napier 2,309
UUP William Corry 1,838
UUP Dorothy Dunlop 1,365
Alliance G. P. C. Thompson 1,278
DUP S. J. Walker 1,131
UUP J. McCrea 1,002
DUP Robin Newton 564
SDLP M. F. Gilheany 188
Turnout 15,939
New area
Party Candidate 1st Pref
UUP Margaret Crooks 2,438
UUP Jim Kirkpatrick 1,820
DUP Billy Dickson 1,638
SDLP Dorita Field 1,332
Alliance John Montgomery 1,326
UUP James Stewart 1,071
Alliance David Cook 1,042
DUP Joan Parkes 998
DUP C. K. Gibson 620
Labour Party NI S. S. Graham 186
Workers' Party Shaun McKeown 133
Independent Victor Brennan 127
Independent Unionist W. S. Stevenson 56
Turnout 13,102
New area
Party Candidate 1st Pref
UUP John Carson 3,153
SDLP Alban Maginness 1,977
Independent Unionist Frank Millar 1,623
DUP Nigel Dodds 1,502
UUP Alfie Redpath 1,107
Alliance Tom Campbell 799
DUP M. Whittley 706
Independent Unionist William Gault 674
SDLP J. G. Murphy 579
Alliance R. O. Jamison 449
Workers' Party K. Johnston 444
Turnout 13,391
New area
Party Candidate 1st Pref
UUP Fred Proctor 1,800
Sinn Féin Bobby Lavery 1,752
Sinn Féin Gerard McGuigan 1,570
SDLP Brian Feeney 1,516
Workers' Party Seamus Lynch 1,344
DUP Peter Lunn 958
SDLP P. Hunter 787
Sinn Féin Paddy McManus 774
Independent Unionist Nelson McCausland 717
UUP David Smylie 707
DUP P. Whittley 604
Alliance A. J. Carton 535
Labour Party NI Paddy Devlin 472
PUP Paddy Bird 433
Ecology Peter Emerson 308
Turnout 14,748
New area
Party Candidate 1st Pref
UUP B. Blair 1,969
Alliance W. F. McDowell 1,425
DUP Rhonda Paisley 1,325
SDLP Alasdair McDonnell 1,175
DUP R. S. McCrea 1,102
SDLP G. McGettrick 833
UUP J. J. Dixon Gilmore 727
Sinn Féin Mick Conlon 614
UUP R. J. Wilson 604
Workers' Party G. Carr 550
Alliance Dan McGuinness 434
Labour and Trade Union R. G. Millar 100
NI Labour J. King 73
Communist Party M. J. Morrissey 57
Turnout 11,285
New area
Upper Falls[6]
Party Candidate 1st Pref
SDLP Alex Attwood 2,461
Sinn Féin Alex Maskey 2,329
Sinn Féin T. M. Holland 2,256
SDLP Cormac Boomer 1,655
Sinn Féin Máirtín Ó Muilleoir 1,031
Alliance Pip Glendinning 931
Workers' Party G. A. McCann 386
DUP I. Lewis 372
Labour and Trade Union Micky Duffy 238
People's Democracy John McAnulty 131
SDLP Peter Prendiville 72
Communist Party K. McCorry 60
Turnout 13,052
New area
Lower Falls[6]
Party Candidate 1st Pref
SDLP Joe Hendron 2,606
Sinn Féin Seán McKnight 1,939
Sinn Féin S. Keenan 1,752
Sinn Féin E. Fitzsimons 1,595
Sinn Féin Fra McCann 1,467
Workers' Party Mary McMahon 1,115
Alliance Will Glendinning 1,113
SDLP S. Mullen 159
Communist Party D. Murray 67
Turnout 12,263
New area















Newry and Mourne


North Down




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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  3. Irish Times, 20 November 1984, p1 accessed 10 April 2009
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Northern Ireland: The District Council Elections of 1985, S Elliott and FJ Smith, Queens University 1986, ISBN 0-85389-287-3
  5. Local Government Elections 1985, Northern Ireland Elections
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Belfast City Council Elections 1985–1989, Northern Ireland Elections