Irish local elections, 1920

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The 1920 Irish local elections provide an interesting barometer of opinion in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence (1919–21), and were the last local elections to be held before the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was passed at the end of the year.

They were held in two stages:

  • Urban area local elections in January 1920 and
  • Rural areas in June 1920


In the Irish general election, 1918, held as part of the United Kingdom general election, 1918, held in December, the newly reformed Sinn Féin party had secured a large majority of seats with slightly less than 50% of the vote because of the "First past the post" electoral system. This provided a propaganda coup for Sinn Féin, and so the British Government introduced the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1919, which allowed for parliamentary elections by proportional representation in all of Ireland for the first time, by the system of the Single transferable vote for multi-member electoral areas. The government hoped that the new system would reveal less-than-monolithic support for Sinn Féin, and it was first tested in the 1920 local elections.[1][2]

The electoral method introduced by the 1919 Act is still used in Irish elections today.

January 1920[edit]

The urban borough elections result for first preference votes were:

Party % votes
Sinn Féin 27
Unionists[3] 27
Labour Party 18
Other nationalists[4] 15
Independents[5] 14

Excluding the more unionist province of Ulster, the urban results were:[6]

Party % votes
Sinn Féin 41
Independents 21
Labour Party 17
Other nationalists 14
Unionists 7

June 1920[edit]

The rural elections showed a much greater level of support for Sinn Féin in its core support area. It took control of 338 out of 393 local government bodies, county councils, boards of guardians and rural district councils across the whole island.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Sinnott, R. "Irish voters decide; voting behaviour in elections and referendums since 1918" (Manchester University Press, 1995), pp.27-28
  2. ^ Hansard report of the debate on the Bill's second reading, March 1919
  3. ^ Candidates from the Ulster Unionist Party and the smaller Irish Unionist Alliance
  4. ^ Including candidates from parties such as the Irish Parliamentary Party
  5. ^ Sinnott R., op cit., p.28, says that "..most .. were unionist with a small "u"."
  6. ^ Martin, H. "Ireland in insurrection" (O'Connor, London 1921), pp.212-218