Wednesday, January 13, 2010

There’s going to be an election ... a by-election in Castlereagh East?

large red tick

There is a lot of talk about elections. Given that there have been 21 Northern Ireland-wide polls (plus one referendum) in the last 21 years, it’s no surprise that there’s always a lot of talk about elections. And of course, I meant to add that there's a council by-election in Craigavon today!

Most people’s money is on a Westminster election being called on the 6 May. The mood music is surprisingly positive around the reinvigorated Policing and Justice negotiations (with no doubt a few other issues on the side of the main political debate) and perhaps the Assembly can motor on until Spring 2011 without collapsing into an early election.

At some point this week, Iris Robinson is expected to resign her seat on Castlereagh Borough Council. (Update - I'm reminded that resigning from council has actually not yet been mentioned - only resigning as MP and MLA - though her husband did talk about her political career being over. Further update - She has apparently now resigned as MP, MLA and Councillor.) Normally parties try to avoid a costly by-election and get wider council agreement to co-opt a new member of the losing party onto the council.

But will this happen in Castlereagh?

No. It only takes one opposing vote to veto a co-option and trigger a by-election, and you can be pretty sure that there will be a are quite a queue of TUV Independent, UUP, Alliance and SDLP councillors willing to say no on this occasion.

The DUP dominate Castlereagh Borough Council, currently holding 12 of the 23 seats. However, with the loss of Iris that shrinks to 11 out of 22. No longer a majority between her resignation and a by-election.

Of course, with DUP holding four seats out of the seven in Iris’ old district of Castlereagh East (TUV, UUP and Alliance holding one each), they’d need to lose a lot of votes to lose the by-election.

However, if one orange bottle was to accidentally fall the DUP don’t regain the seat, and they won’t regain their overall majority on the council whenever the other parties all gang up against them. And with an increased chance – through sheer number of councillors – of other council members being in hospital or indisposed, the day-to-day majority could shrink further.

No doubt it’ll be quite a fight when the electorate in Castlereagh East are given the opportunity to make their opinion known about recent events.

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