1969 Mid Ulster by-election
The Mid Ulster by-election was held on 17 April 1969 following the death of George Forrest, the Ulster Unionist Party Member of Parliament for Mid Ulster. The two-way contest was unusual in featuring two female candidates.
Forrest had held the seat since 1956, initially winning it as an Independent Unionist, but joining the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) immediately on his election. The seat had been created six years earlier, and during that period had been held by two Nationalist Party members, one Sinn Féin member, and an Ulster Unionist.
At the 1966 general election, Forrest had achieved only a slim majority over former Sinn Féin MP Tom Mitchell, standing as an Independent Republican. It was clear that the balance between nationalist and unionist voters in the constituency was very close.
Since 1966, the political situation in Northern Ireland had changed. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association had been formed to campaign for civil rights for nationalists. After its marches were disrupted, leading to the start of The Troubles, more radical groups such as People's Democracy organised. Among its leaders was radical student Bernadette Devlin, who stood against prominent unionist James Chichester-Clark for the South Londonderry seat at the 1969 Northern Ireland general election in February.
Two prominent members of NICRA, Dr Conn McCluskey and his wife Patricia McCluskey, organised a Unity Convention in order to select a single anti-Unionist candidate. After six public meetings between the candidates there were three contenders: Kevin Agnew, a Maghera-based solicitor and member of Sinn Féin, Austin Currie of the Nationalist Party, and Bernadette Devlin of People's Democracy. On 2 April 1969, both Agnew and Currie agreed to withdraw in favour of Devlin. In contrast to Mitchell's abstentionist stance, she committed to attending the British House of Commons to fight her cause. Her uncle, Daniel Devlin, was treasurer of her campaign, Loudon Seth, a Protestant, was her election agent and Eamonn McCann served as press agent.
The Ulster Unionist Party stood Anna Forrest, George Forrest's widow. She did not hold any public meetings or do any electioneering work. In a brief address to electors, she stated "if elected, I will endeavour, with God's help, to strive for a more peaceful and prosperous society where all people can live in harmony and work together for the common good of all."
Devlin achieved a narrow victory, becoming at twenty-one years of age the youngest ever female MP. The election also saw the highest turnout in any Westminster by-election since universal suffrage, with 91.5% of the electorate voting.
Devlin held the seat at the 1970 general election, at which time the Unity movement acquired another MP, Frank McManus, in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. However they both lost their seats at the February 1974 UK general election.
|UUP||Anna Forrest||29,437||46.7||– 5.6|
|Unity gain from UUP||Swing|
|Independent Republican||Tom Mitchell||27,168||47.8||+8.2|
- Devlin, Bernadette (1969). "Chapter 11". Bernadette Devlin: The Price of my Soul. Pan Books Ltd, London. p. 164. ISBN 0233961968.
- Devlin, Bernadette (1969). "Chapter 12". Bernadette Devlin: The Price of my Soul. Pan Books Ltd, London. p. 168. ISBN 0233961968.
- F. W. S. Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results: 1950-1970, p.686
- "1969 By Election Results". British Elections Ephemera Archive. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
- A Vision Of Britain Through Time (Constituency elector numbers)
- "Gospel of Devlin", TIME Magazine
- 1969 British Parliamentary By Elections: Result & campaign literature