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Northern Ireland by-elections, 1986

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Title: Northern Ireland by-elections, 1986  
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Subject: UK Parliamentary by-elections, Enoch Powell, Northern Ireland by-elections, 1986, Northern Ireland Executive (1974), Members of the Northern Ireland Forum
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Northern Ireland by-elections, 1986

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Northern Ireland
Interim bodies
See also

The 1986 Northern Ireland by-elections were fifteen by-elections held on 23 January 1986, to fill vacancies in the Parliament of the United Kingdom caused by the resignation in December 1985 of all sitting Unionist Members of Parliament (MPs). The MPs, from the Ulster Unionist Party, Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Popular Unionist Party, did this to highlight their opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Each of their parties agreed not to contest seats previously held by the others, and each outgoing MP stood for re-election.

Other candidates

Of the remaining two seats in Northern Ireland, Foyle was held by the Nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), while Belfast West was held by the Republican party Sinn Féin. These MPs did not resign and their seats were not contested.

The SDLP and Sinn Féin regarded the resignations as a publicity stunt, and were reluctant to take part in the resulting by-elections. In the event, they contested only the seats which they believed to have an anti-Unionist majority.

The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland instructed its branches to nominate a candidate for each by-election, but many were reluctant, and ultimately, the party stood in only five seats. The small Workers' Party also stood, in nine seats.

In four constituencies, no political party was willing to contest the by-election. This effectively made these the last uncontested by-elections in British history. However, to ensure that there was a contest and the Unionists would be able to demonstrate their point, Wesley Robert Williamson changed his name by deed poll to "Peter Barry", Peter Barry being Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Ireland. "Peter Barry" stood in these four constituencies under the label "For the Anglo-Irish Agreement", allowing a contest, but did not campaign.

The unusual circumstances led this to be the greatest number of UK Parliamentary by-elections ever held on a single day.


All but one of the Unionists were re-elected, many with extremely large majorities. The largest of all went to Ian Paisley in North Antrim. He won 97.4% of the vote, the highest percentage polled by any candidate in a UK by-election since the 1940 Middleton and Prestwich by-election.

The sole exception to this pattern was the Newry and Armagh by-election, where Seamus Mallon of the SDLP was able to take the seat. Former Cabinet Minister Enoch Powell was able to narrowly survive a strong challenge from the SDLP in South Down and was subsequently defeated at the following year's general election. In the western constituencies of Mid Ulster and Fermanargh and South Tyrone the Unionist candidates were able to survive with less than 50% of the vote due to a split Nationalist vote and both seats were gained by Sinn Féin in later elections once Unionist pacts had broken down.

The results of the fifteen by-elections were cited by Unionists as a rejection of the Agreement by the Northern Irish electorate, but did not succeed in repealing it.


East Antrim by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
UUP Roy Beggs 30,386 84.9 +47.5
Alliance Sean Neeson 5,405 15.1 -4.9
Majority 24,981
Turnout 59.2 -5.9
UUP hold Swing N/A
North Antrim by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
DUP Ian Paisley 33,937 97.4 +43.2
For the Anglo-Irish Agreement Peter Barry 515 2.6 N/A
Majority 33,024 94.8
Turnout 54.7
DUP hold Swing N/A
South Antrim by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
UUP Clifford Forsythe 30,087 94.1 +48.4
For the Anglo-Irish Agreement Peter Barry 1,870 5.9 N/A
Majority 28,217
Turnout 53.5 -12.0
UUP hold Swing N/A


Belfast East by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
DUP Peter Robinson 27,607 81.0 +35.7
Alliance Oliver Napier 5,917 17.4 -6.7
Workers' Party Frank Cullen 578 1.7 +0.6
Majority 21,690
Turnout 60.2
DUP hold Swing
Belfast North by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
UUP Cecil Walker 21,649 71.5 +35.3
Alliance Paul Maguire 5,072 16.7 +7.6
Workers' Party Seamus Lynch 3,563 11.8 +6.1
Majority 16,577
Turnout 51.5
UUP hold Swing
Belfast South by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
UUP Martin Smyth 21,771 71.3 +21.3
Alliance David Cook 7,635 25.0 +1.1
Workers' Party Gerry Carr 1,109 3.6
Majority 14,136 46.3 +1.3
Turnout 56.9
UUP hold Swing


North Down by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Ulster Popular Unionist James Kilfedder 30,793 79.2 +23.1
Alliance John Cushnahan 8,066 20.8 -1.3
Majority 22,727
Turnout 62.8
Ulster Popular Unionist hold Swing
South Down by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
UUP Enoch Powell 24,963 48.4 +8.1
SDLP Eddie McGrady 23,121 44.8 +5.5
Sinn Féin Hugh McDowell 2,963 5.7 -2.2
Workers' Party Sean Magee 522 1.0 -0.7
Majority 1,842
UUP hold Swing

Newry and Armagh

Newry and Armagh by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
SDLP Seamus Mallon 22,694 45.5 +3.7
UUP Jim Nicholson 20,111 40.3 +0.2
Sinn Féin Jim McAllister 6,609 13.2 -7.7
Workers' Party Patrick McCusker 515 1.0 -1.2
Majority 2,583
SDLP gain from UUP Swing

Other constituencies

Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
UUP Ken Maginnis 27,857 49.7 +2.1
Sinn Féin Owen Carron 15,278 27.2 -7.6
SDLP Austin Currie 12,081 21.5 +5.0
Workers' Party David Kettyles 864 1.5 -0.4
Majority 12,579
UUP hold Swing
Lagan Valley by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
UUP Jim Molyneaux 32,514 90.7 +31.5
Workers' Party John Lowry 3,328 9.3 +7.0
Majority 29,186
Turnout 57.8
UUP hold Swing
East Londonderry by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
UUP William Ross 30,922 93.9 +56.0
For the Anglo-Irish Agreement Peter Barry 2,001 6.1 N/A
Majority 28,921 87.8 +73.7
Turnout 32,923 46.8 –29.5
UUP hold Swing
Mid Ulster by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
DUP William McCrea 23,695 46.1 +16.1
Sinn Féin Danny Morrison 13,998 27.2 -2.7
SDLP Adrian Colton 13,021 25.3 +2.9
Workers' Party Thomas Owens 691 1.3 -0.1
Majority 6,967
DUP hold Swing
Strangford by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
UUP John Taylor 32,627 94.2
For the Anglo-Irish Agreement Peter Barry 1,993 5.8
Majority 30,634 88.5
Turnout 34,620 55.0
UUP hold Swing
Upper Bann by-election, 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
UUP Harold McCusker 29,311 80.8
Workers' Party Tom French 6,978 19.2
Majority 22,333
UUP hold Swing

See also


  • British Parliamentary By Elections: Campaign literature from the by-elections
  • CAIN: Westminster By-Elections (NI) - Thursday 23 January 1986
  • Northern Ireland Elections: Westminster by-elections 1986
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