Election 97
 Belfast West

Old constituency Belfast West
Current MP Joe Hendron
SDLP 92 17,415
Sinn Fein 92 16,826
UUP 92 4,766
Elected party SDLP
Belfast West

Robert Waller writes

West Belfast contains the hard core of Catholic nationalist and republican support in Northern Ireland's capital. The Protestant population, once a considerable minority, has diminished greatly as the population has become more segregated. This is a seat blighted not merely by sectarian violence, but by a host of traditional inner-city problems ranging from decaying housing stock to rampant unemployment. Names such as the Falls Road, Divis Flats and Andersontown have become all too familiar.

This seat was held for 17 years until 1983 by Gerry Fitt of the SDLP when he left the party to stand as an independent. The acrimonious split in the SDLP ranks and an upsurge in the republican vote led to Provisional Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams being elected (although he never took up his seat at Westminster). Adams held on in 1987, ironically assisted by an upsurge in the Protestant Unionist vote, but lost to the SDLP's Joe Hendron in 1992 - it seems likely that this was largely due to Protestants tactically voting for the SDLP to kick out Adams, a major hate figure for Unionists.

It seems unlikely that there will be a close contest in West Belfast in 1997 though - Boundary Commission changes have led to the inclusion of rural/suburban wards which, though dominantly Catholic, are less republican in their leanings. Adams will stand again, but seems unlikely to regain the seat from Hendron.