West Belfast is a Parliamentary Constituency in the House of Commons and also an Assembly constituency in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The seat was created in 1922 when as part of the establishement of the devolved Stormont Parliament for Northern Ireland, the number of MPs in the Westminster Parliament was drastically cut. The seat is centred on the west section of Belfast, though at times it has included the area around the Docks on the north east side of the Lagan Estuary. West Belfast also contains part of the district of Lisburn.
Proposed Boundary changes
At the time of writing the Boundary Commission has proposed alterations for the boundaries of constituencies in Northern Ireland. West Belfast currently has one of the smallest electorates of any constituency in Northern Ireland and it is proposed to expand it further into Lisburn, taking in areas currently contained in Lagan Valley.
Not included in the proposals is a common suggestion to reunite the five wards centred on the Shankill Road which are currently split between West Belfast and North Belfast. As the proposals are likely to be subject to public consultation it is likely this suggestion will be made and may be encorporated into the final boundaries.
The Member of Parliament since the 1997 general election is Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein. He previously held the seat between 1983 and 1992 when he lost it to Joe Hendron of the Social Democratic and Labour Party but regained it in 1997.
MPs since 1922
Assemblies and Forum elections
The six MLAs for the constituency elected in the 2003 election are:
In the 1998 election the six MLAs elected were:
In the 1996 election to the Northern Ireland Peace Forum, 5 Forum members were elected from North Belfast. They were as follows:
In 1982 elections were held for an Assembly for Northern Ireland to hold the Secretary of State to account, in the hope that this would be the first step towards restoring devolution. West Blefast elected 4 members as follows:
In 1975 elections were held to a Constitutional Convention which sought (unsuccessfully) to generate a consensus on the future of the province. The six members elected from West Belfast were:
In 1973 elections were held to the Assembly set up under the Sunningdale Agreement. The six members elected from West Belfast were:
Politics and History of the constituency
West Belfast has historically been the least unionist part of Northern Ireland, though it is only in the last few decades that the votes for unionist parties have plunged to tiny levels. It is considered the heart of republicanism in Northern Ireland, containing the Falls Road, though ironically it also contains part of the fiercely unionist Shankill Road.
The Westminster constituency was consistenly held by the Ulster Unionist Party until a by-election in 1943 which was won by John Beattie, standing as an independent Labour candidate. For the next twenty-three years the seat would regularly change from unionist to nationalist/labour, with the latter represented by a variety of parties.
In the 1966 general election the seat was won by Gerry Fitt of the Republican Labour Party. Later in 1970 he left that party to become a founder and first leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party. In the February 1974 general election, West Belfast was the only constituency in Northern Ireland to elect an MP supporting the Sunningdale Agreement. Fitt's majority was narrow and probably only won because boundary changes had added the Docks section of Belfast (which was Fitt's political base) to the seat. Fitt retained the seat for the next nine years but increasingly distanced himself from nationalist groups and in late 1979 he left the SDLP altogether. He sat as an independent socialist but lost his seat in the 1983 when it was won by Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein.
Adams' share of the vote was small and achieved victory only due to Fitt and the SDLP candidate splitting the non-Sinn Fein vote. In the 1987 Adams narrowly held his seat, but lost it in the 1992 general election amidst a strong tactical voting campaign in favour of Joe Hendron of the Social Democratic and Labour Party by unionists in the Shankill Road area of the constituency.
After boundary changes and the IRA ceasefire, support for Sinn Fein in the constituency soared to new levels and in all elections held in the seat since 1996 they have taken over 50% of the vote. In 1997 Adams regained the Westminster seat. Few expect Sinn Fein to lose the seat again for many years.