Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

June Books 10) PR Urban Elections in Ulster 1920, by Alec Wilson

This is an exciting document. [First sentence of the introduction by Robert A. Newland.]
This is one of those nuggets that all connoisseurs of Northern Ireland's electoral history are vaguely aware of. Back in 1920, proportional representation was brought in for all local government elections in Ireland, in preparation for the elections to the Home Rule parliament then envisaged (which ultimately became two bodies, the House of Commons of Northern Ireland and Dáil Éireann). All urban councils held elections in January, followed by County Councils and rural district councils in June. This book was originally published between the two sets of elections, and was then reissued, topped and tailed with a preface and bibliography, by the Electoral Reform Society in 1972, just at the point that proportional representation was again being introduced for Northern Ireland local government (having been abolished as almost the first act of the Unionist regime in 1922).
But if I " plump '—Do I Not Help My Man? [quote from a leaflet entitled 'The P.R. "Catechism."']
It's not only about the results; there is a brief history of PR campaigning in Belfast, and a roundup of the voter education campaign run by the PR Society (as it then was) in the runup to the election, reproducing the texts (but alas not the formats) of a number of the leaflets and fliers circulated, including a poem by a Nationalist Party supporter in the Falls. One gets the sense that much of the literature (though probably not the poem) was drafted by the same hand as the rest of the report, Alec Wilson being a Presbyterian liberal who was chair of the Ulster Committee. (Its president was J. Milne Barbour, who became one of the more liberal members of Craigavon's government - though this is not setting a high bar - and ended up Minister of Finance during the brief gerontocratic tenure of Craigavon's successor J.M. Andrews.)
In conclusion, we may express our opinion that P.R. as applied to the Belfast Municipal Elections has carried into practice all that its advocates have ever claimed for it.
Then as now, Belfast City Council had nine electoral districts, three of whose names survive to the present day (Pottinger, Victoria and Falls, the last of these now split into Upper and Lower), with between 6 and 8 seats; Falls had the most candidates though it was only a six-seater, with Nationalists and Sinn Fein putting up a full slate each and four Labour candidates, three independents and a Unionist bringing the total to twenty. Falls, Cromac and Shankill all went to fourteen stages of counting. A Unionist won a seat in the Falls, and a Nationalist in the Shankill, neither of which would be likely today. A Mr Zimri Stewart stood in four different wards simultaneously, and unsuccessfully, as an independent candidate. He got 14 first preference votes in Pottinger, 8 in Woodvale, 3 in Falls, and none at all in Shankill (though he picked up a Labour transfer there, before being eliminated). I should like to know more about him.

Wilson goes on to give some details - infuriatingly incomplete - of the elections in the other towns of Ulster (including, of course, Counties Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan) with a little more focus on Lisburn - where at least vote totals for each of the three wards is given - and some details also of Derry and Bangor. It is also noted that there was no contest in those towns where only enough candidates came forward to fill the seats available: these were Armagh, Ballybay, Banbridge, Dromore, Gilford and Keady. Of these only Dromore was a single-party council (presumably Unionist). I confess I had to look up where Ballybay is - it's now a small border town in County Monaghan, and still has a nine-member local council (4 FF, 4 FG, 1 SF) where elections remain a bit weird.

Anyway, the rather bold opening statement of Robert A Newland's preface, that "This is an exciting document", may not hold true for everyone. But for us electoral anoraks, it definitely is, and I'm very happy to have tracked it down.
Tags: bookblog 2013, world: northern ireland

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