Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, August 1981

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The Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, August 1981 was the second by-election in the same year, held in Fermanagh and South Tyrone on 20 August 1981. It was seen by many as a rerun of the earlier contest in April. The by-election was caused by the death of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

Background of the constituency[edit]

The constituency, based on the districts of Fermanagh and Dungannon, was created in 1950 and had seen a series of closely fought elections between unionist and Irish nationalist candidates, with several elections being won due to the absence of competing candidates on one side or the other.[1]

The April by-election was a straight contest between Sands, standing as "Anti-H-Block/Armagh Political Prisoner" and the former Ulster Unionist Party MP and leader Harry West, with no other candidates standing. Sands won with a majority of 1446 (with 3280 spoilt ballot papers).[2][2]

Candidates in the 1981 by-election[edit]

Following Sands' victory and death shortly afterwards, the British government passed legislation barring prisoners from standing for Parliament.[2] As a result, another prisoner on hunger strike could not be nominated. Instead Owen Carron, who had served as Sands' agent in the earlier election, was nominated as an "Anti-H-Block Proxy Political Prisoner".[2]

The Ulster Unionists nominated a new candidate, Ken Maginnis, who had recently retired from the Ulster Defence Regiment with the rank of Major, who was on the liberal wing of the party. Maginnis was unusual amongst Ulster Unionist candidates as he had never been a member of the Orange Order.

The new by-election also saw four additional candidates stand. Seamus Close stood for the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland even though this was traditionally one of their weakest areas. Tom Moore stood for the Workers Party Republican Clubs who were descended from the Official IRA. Two fringe candidates also stood: Martin Green on a "General Amnesty" ticket and Simon Hall-Raleigh as "The Peace Lover."[2]


The turnout was 88.6%. There were 804 spoilt votes.[2]

Fermanagh and South Tyrone[3]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Anti H-Block Owen Carron 31,278 49.1 -3.1
UUP Ken Maginnis 29,048 45.6 -4.2
Alliance Seamus Close 1,930 3.0 N/A
Republican Clubs Tom Moore 1,132 1.8 N/A
General Amnesty Martin Green 249 0.4 N/A
The Peace Lover Simon Hall-Raleigh 90 0.1 N/A
Majority 2,230
Turnout 88.6 1.7

Compared to the April election, turnout rose by 1.7%, whilst there were over two and a half thousand fewer spoilt papers. Most of these additional votes went to the additional parties standing.[2]


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