15 of 17 Northern Irish seats
in the United Kingdom Parliament
Left map shows the % of the vote received by resigning unionist anti-agreement candidates
Right map shows the winning party by constituency - in all constituencies but Armagh and Newry, resigning unionist candidates were re-elected
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.
The aggregated results for all constituencies are shown below. Changes are compared to the aggregate results for the 15 constituencies in the 1983 general election.
|1986 Northern Ireland by-elections|
|Stood||Elected||Gained||Unseated||Net||% of total||%||No.||Net %|
|For the Anglo-Irish Agreement||4||0||0||1.1||6,379||N/A|
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 Fermanagh 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.
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.
|For the Anglo-Irish Agreement||Peter Barry||515||2.6||N/A|
|For the Anglo-Irish Agreement||Peter Barry||1,870||5.9||N/A|
|Workers' Party||Frank Cullen||578||1.7||+0.6|
|Workers' Party||Seamus Lynch||3,563||11.8||+6.1|
|Workers' Party||Gerry Carr||1,109||3.6|
|Sinn Féin||Hugh McDowell||2,963||5.7||−2.2|
|Workers' Party||Sean Magee||522||1.0||−0.7|
Newry and Armagh
|Sinn Féin||Jim McAllister||6,609||13.2||−7.7|
|Workers' Party||Patrick McCusker||515||1.0||−1.2|
|SDLP gain from UUP||Swing|
|Sinn Féin||Owen Carron||15,278||27.2||−7.6|
|Workers' Party||David Kettyles||864||1.5||-0.4|
|Workers' Party||John Lowry||3,328||9.3||+7.0|
|For the Anglo-Irish Agreement||Peter Barry||2,001||6.1||N/A|
|Sinn Féin||Danny Morrison||13,998||27.2||−2.8|
|Workers' Party||Thomas Owens||691||1.3||±0.0|
|UUP||John David Taylor||32,627||94.2||+45.4|
|For the Anglo-Irish Agreement||Peter Barry||1,993||5.8||N/A|
|Workers' Party||Tom French||6,978||19.2||+13.7|
- Lists of United Kingdom by-elections
- United Kingdom by-election records
- Five Constituencies Referendum