Northern Ireland by-elections, 1986
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
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.
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|
|North Antrim by-election, 1986|
|For the Anglo-Irish Agreement||Peter Barry||515||2.6||N/A|
|South Antrim by-election, 1986|
|For the Anglo-Irish Agreement||Peter Barry||1,870||5.9||N/A|
|Belfast East by-election, 1986|
|Workers' Party||Frank Cullen||578||1.7||+0.6|
|Belfast North by-election, 1986|
|Workers' Party||Seamus Lynch||3,563||11.8||+6.1|
|Belfast South by-election, 1986|
|Workers' Party||Gerry Carr||1,109||3.6|
|North Down by-election, 1986|
|Ulster Popular Unionist||James Kilfedder||30,793||79.2||+23.1|
|Ulster Popular Unionist hold||Swing|
|South Down by-election, 1986|
|Sinn Féin||Hugh McDowell||2,963||5.7||-2.2|
|Workers' Party||Sean Magee||522||1.0||-0.7|
Newry and Armagh
|Newry and Armagh by-election, 1986|
|Sinn Féin||Jim McAllister||6,609||13.2||-7.7|
|Workers' Party||Patrick McCusker||515||1.0||-1.2|
|SDLP gain from UUP||Swing|
|Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, 1986|
|Sinn Féin||Owen Carron||15,278||27.2||-7.6|
|Workers' Party||David Kettyles||864||1.5||-0.4|
|Lagan Valley by-election, 1986|
|Workers' Party||John Lowry||3,328||9.3||+7.0|
|East Londonderry by-election, 1986|
|For the Anglo-Irish Agreement||Peter Barry||2,001||6.1||N/A|
|Mid Ulster by-election, 1986|
|Sinn Féin||Danny Morrison||13,998||27.2||-2.7|
|Workers' Party||Thomas Owens||691||1.3||-0.1|
|Strangford by-election, 1986|
|For the Anglo-Irish Agreement||Peter Barry||1,993||5.8|
|Upper Bann by-election, 1986|
|Workers' Party||Tom French||6,978||19.2|
- 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