DUP gains seats, but Sinn Féin keeps top spot in Belfast City Council
No nationalist or unionist majority in city council after Northern Ireland local elections
Counting in the local elections at Belfast City Hall. Photograph: Rebecca Black/PA Wire
The atmosphere under the Dome of Delight at Belfast City Hall was buzzing at the weekend as 60 councillors were elected to the North’s largest local authority.
Turnout in the 10 district electoral areas was 51.05 per cent and after all the 114,664 votes cast were counted there was no nationalist or unionist majority for Belfast City Council.
Nationalists won 24 seats, unionists 19 seats and the “others”, as they are called, took 17 seats.
Sinn Féin maintained its role as the council’s largest party with 18 councillors, down from 19 in 2014; the DUP ended up with 15 seats, up two from 2014; the Alliance Party increased its seat numbers from eight to 10; and the SDLP dropped one to finish with six seats.
From a low base the Green Party increased its representation from one to four seats and the People Before Profit Alliance jumped from one to three seats.
Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice party is no longer represented on the council; the Progressive Unionist Party dropped from three to two seats; and the Ulster Unionist Party suffered the biggest blow, losing five seats to finish with just two councillors in the city – an historic low.
Casualties included veteran councillor and LGBT campaigner Jeffrey Dudgeon in Balmoral. DUP council group leader Lee Reynolds, who lead the Vote Leave Brexit campaign during the EU membership referendum, failed to gain a seat in Titanic after switching from Balmoral in what DUP sources said was “a gamble that didn’t pay off”.
However, Frank McCoubrey topped the poll in Court for the DUP with 2,227 first preferences and Tracy Kelly gained a seat back for the DUP in Botanic after independent unionist Ruth Patterson was expelled from the party and did not seek re-election.
The big story of the first day of local election results in Belfast on Friday was the sensational performance of SDLP candidate Paul McCusker, who received the most first preference votes of any candidate standing across the North. The 33-year-old nurse and homelessness campaigner received 2,856 first preference votes in the Oldpark district, more than a quarter of the eligible votes cast, leading analysts to question why the SDLP hadn’t run two candidates.
An SDLP source said: “We’ll definitely be running two candidates next time.”
People Before Profit’s Fiona Ferguson made a breakthrough in the same constituency. The north-Belfast woman, who also works in the constituency office of west Belfast MLA Gerry Carroll, told The Irish Times she was looking forward to “getting stuck in” at City Hall. She described her success as “a win for feminism and socialism in the area”.
Green Party leader and South Belfast MLA Clare Bailey said she was thrilled with her party’s performance. Constituency worker Áine Groogan topped the poll for the party in Botanic, Anthony Flynn in Ormiston, and deputy leader Malachi O’Hara took a seat for the party in Castle for the first time, among other success. He pledged to “make alliances with other progressives in the city”. “I am excited about the challenges ahead,” Mr O’Hara added.
The Alliance Party middle ground cross-community surge across the North saw it take three seats in Ormiston, the east of the city, and top the poll in Castle in north Belfast for the first time through former lord mayor Nuala McAllister.
Sinn Féin took six of the seven seats in the Black Mountain area, with People Before Profit securing the seventh seat through Matt Collins, and in Collin, Sinn Féin’s Danny Baker topped the poll but the party lost a seat to Mr Collins’s brother People Before Profit’s Michael Collins.
Former Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín’s Aontú failed to replicate in Belfast the electoral success his new party had in Derry, where GP Anne McCloskey was elected, but he has said the 750 and 670 votes two of his candidates received in west of the city are “foundations for seats in the next election”.