DUP remains North’s largest party but Alliance makes big gains
Greens and People Before Profit also make gains in local elections
The Alliance Party’s Nuala McAllister celebrates as she is elected for the Castle area during the local election count at Belfast City Hall. Photograph: Mark Marlow/PA
The story of the local elections in Northern Ireland was the strong performance of the Alliance party to increase its representation by more than 20 seats.
Alliance and the Greens have topped the polls in many areas, picking up additional seats in a number of councils.
With all 462 seats filled in 11 councils, the Alliance party is celebrating victories across the six counties seeing its representation jump by 65 per cent.
However, the political landscape in Northern Ireland stays much the same as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) remains the North’s largest. It gained 24.1 per cent first preference votes – up by 1 per cent – and ended the election with 122 seats, a loss of eight seats compared to the 2014 council elections.
Sinn Féin suffered a slight dent to its support base with 23.2 per cent first preference votes – a drop of 0.8 per cent. The party walked away with 105 council seats, the same number of seats they won in 2014.
The Alliance Party saw a surge in its share of votes which increased from 6.7 per cent to 11.5 per cent. Its number of seats rose from 32 to 53.
The Green party and independents also made significant gains across the 11 councils. The Green party’s Mal O’Hara was elected to Belfast City Council in what has been a hugely successful election for his party in Northern Ireland’s capital. The party doubled its representation and now has eight seats.
The Ulster Unionist Party suffered some of its biggest causalities with the loss of high-profile Belfast councillor Jeff Dudgeon. In a disastrous election for his party in Belfast, Mr Dudgeon was eliminated on the third stage of the count.
The party now has 75 council seats, a loss of 13 compared to the last local government elections.
The SDLP also lost seven councillors and gained 12 per cent of first preference votes – a drop of 1.6 per cent.
The Traditional Unionist Voice suffered a heavy blow to its representation after losing over half of their seats. The party have been left with six seats.
Independents made significant gains taking 23 seats. People Before Profit added four councillors to its representation, taking home five seats.
In Omagh, a former MP who resigned after angering relatives of 10 Protestants shot dead in a sectarian massacre won a council seat. Barry McElduff was forced to resign his Westminster seat last year amid an outcry after he posted a video of himself balancing a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head.
It was posted on his Twitter account on the anniversary of the Kingsmill atrocity, which saw 10 workmen shot dead by republicans in Co Armagh on January 5th, 1976.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said she did not believe Mr McElduff has recognised the hurt and pain he caused to victims in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, the son of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane was elected to Belfast City Council.
John Finucane was elected on the first count of the Castle district electoral area – which encompasses parts of north Belfast – for Sinn Féin with 1,650 votes, just behind the Alliance party’s Nuala McAllister, who attracted 1,787 votes.
In further controversy, Mrs Foster said she will consider comments made by former health minister Jim Wells about the DUP’s first openly gay councillor in Northern Ireland. The leader said her party will look at a number of issues including “bad behaviour” by members after the local elections have concluded.
The DUP’s founder once led a campaign to, in his words, “Save Ulster from Sodomy” and prevent the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
Mrs Foster said Mr Wells should not have made the comments to the media.
Alliance leader Naomi Long said the message from the voters is that “they want to see politics that delivers”.
“They are not interested in the kind of tribal politics of the past in terms of unionism and nationalism. What they want is the kind of politics that puts people first,” she told the BBC.
Ms Long will be contesting the European Parliament election on May 23rd in Northern Ireland if it goes ahead.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the issue of his party’s partnership with Fianna Fáil did not feature significantly in canvassing. “The main issue on the doors was ‘when are you getting back to work?’,” he said.
In advance of Tuesday’s talks involving the North’s five main parties and the British and Irish governments, that was a comment all the other main parties said was a central theme of canvasses – that voters were urging the parties to reinstate Stormont.
A total of 819 candidates stood in the election for 462 seats on 11 councils in Northern Ireland. – Additional reporting: PA