Northern Ireland

Hardliners Certain of 5 Seats – On This Day in 1974

Former SDLP leaders Gerry Fitt and John Hume
Former SDLP leaders Gerry Fitt and John Hume
March 1 1974

At last night’s close of the poll in the 12 Northern Ireland constituencies in the Westminster general election, it was forecast that the Paisley-Craig-West right-wing United Ulster Unionist coalition were certain of five seats and could have as many as eight. They were also assured of the support of other successful anti-Sunningdale pact unionists.

Question marks hung over four of the seats – West Belfast, East Belfast, North Down and Mid-Ulster. It was touch and go in West Belfast between the sitting MP, Mr Gerry Fitt, and UUC candidate Mr John McQuade. The extent of the vote for Mr Albert Price, the Independent Republican father of the Winchester Eight hunger-striking sisters Dolours and Marion, will be the deciding factor in whether Mr Fitt can retain the seat.

In East Belfast, political observers said it would be a “close thing” between the sitting member, Mr Stanley McMaster (UU), and Vanguard leader Mr William Craig. Mr David Bleakley, the NILP candidate, was believed to have been “well beaten”.

Assembly Minister of the Environment Mr Roy Bradford, challenging Mr James Kilfedder (UU) the sitting MP, was reported to have polled well. But even the shrewdest political onlookers were unwilling to anticipate the count.

The sitting MP in Mid-Ulster, Mrs Bernadette McAliskey, who was believed, the previous night, to be about to divide the anti-unionist vote down the middle with her SDLP challenger, Assembly Minister of Community Relations, Mr Ivan Cooper, slipped into third place in the forecasts soon after the polling stations opened, behind UUU candidate Mr J Dunlop.

It was considered on the cards, however, that Mr Dunlop could be the victor. The extent of the vote for the other unionist in the field, Mr Neville Thornton, will decide whether Mr Cooper has succeeded in wresting the seat from Mrs McAliskey – or whether Mid-Ulster is to be represented by a hardline anti-power-sharing unionist.

In Britain, a Labour Government with a slim majority looked likely early today after one of the biggest general election polls ever recorded.

The opinion polls – and the bookies – who had all tipped the Tories to win, seemed to have got it all wrong as the computers interpreted the first results as showing a decisive swing to Labour.

With polls closed the night before, it soon became apparent that the Westminster election would see the Tories lose power and, in Northern Ireland, anti-power-sharing unionists emerge as the big winners.