DUP’s first gay candidate elected in Northern Ireland local elections

SDLP claims resurgence in Derry as candidates top polls in two electoral areas

The DUP’s first openly gay candidate, Alison Bennington, has been elected to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council. Photograph: Dave Pettard/PA Wire

The DUP’s first openly gay candidate, Alison Bennington, has been elected to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council. Photograph: Dave Pettard/PA Wire

 

The DUP’s first openly gay candidate has won a seat in Northern Ireland’s local elections, as the Alliance Party and Greens made gains.

Alison Bennington was elected on the sixth count shortly after 5pm in the Glengormley urban area of Newtownabbey Borough Council.

The first councillor elected in the North was Sinn Féin’s Darren Totten in Mid-Ulster, who was returned shortly before 11am, less than three hours after the counting started.

As results began to come in the DUP and Sinn Féin appeared to maintaining their share of the vote while Alliance and the Greens seemed set to increase their number of seats from 2014 when respectively they won 32 and four seats.

Aontú, the party set up this year by former Sinn Féin TD Peadar Toibín, has had its first councillor elected.

Dr Anne McCloskey, a retired GP from the Shantallow area of Derry City, polled more than 1,000 first preference votes in the Ballyarnett District Electoral Area.

Mr Tóibín, who was at the count centre in the Foyle Arena in Derry, said it was a “foundational election” for the party.

“We didn’t exist four months ago,” he said, “but what we sought to do was to select candidates to build an organisation around and we have done that.”

Aontú is running 16 candidates - the majority west of the Bann.

Counting of ballots begins in the Northern Ireland local elections as at Coleraine Leisure centre in Co Derry. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Counting of ballots begins in the Northern Ireland local elections as at Coleraine Leisure centre in Co Derry. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Michael Collins of People Before Profit was one of the notable winners on Belfast City Council, gaining a new seat for the party in Collin. Áine Groogan of the Green Party topped the poll in the Botanic electoral area of the city.

Kyle Black, the son of murdered prison officer David Black, was elected in the Mid Ulster Council. He ran as a candidate for the DUP in the Carntogher electoral ward.

Counting in the elections centres began at 8am on Friday with election centres likely to be working until late on Saturday before it is known which candidates fill the 462 seats on the North’s 11 councils.

Derry ‘resurgence’

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood claimed Northern Ireland was witnessing the party’s resurgence after it topped the poll in two of the District Electoral Areas (DEAs) in Derry.

First-time candidate Mary Durkan polled more than 1,200 first preference votes in Foyleside and was elected on the first count.

In Ballyarnett, Angela Dobbins was also elected on the first count with almost 1,400 first preference votes.

The SDLP lost one seat to Rachael Ferguson of the Alliance Party - which won its first seat in Derry in almost 40 years - leaving the SDLP with a net gain of one seat.

Shaun Harkin, who was elected for People Before Profit in the Foyleside District Electoral Area (DEA), is the party’s first councillor in Derry.

Counting has moved on to the third stage in four of the seven DEAs in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area, with no other candidates so far elected.

The remainder of the DEAs will be counted on Saturday.

In Belfast, the SDLP’s Paul McCusker topped the poll in the Oldpark DEA with 2,856 votes, more than 1,200 votes over the quota of 1,619.

“It’s early days for us in terms of the renewal project,” Mr Eastwood said, “but what we’re finding across the North is that in places where we run new, young, talented candidates and put a good campaign behind them we can win seats.

“We have an awful lot of work to do across the North. There are large parts of the North where we need to put a lot of effort in, but we know what the formula is and we’re going to multiply it.

Mr Eastwood refused to be drawn on whether Ms Durkan would be a potential candidate for the next Westminster election.

Ms Durkan, who is a solicitor, is the sister of the SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan and the niece of the former Foyle MP Mark Durkan, who is now standing for Fine Gael in the European elections in Dublin.

Sinn Féin had previously held 16 seats in the DCSDC council area, and the SDLP eight. There were seven DUP councillors, seven Independents, and two Ulster Unionists.

In Ballyarnett retired GP Anne McCloskey is polling strongly for the all-Ireland anti-abortion party Aontú and is expected to be elected.

There is also speculation that Rachael Ferguson in the Faughan ward could take the first Alliance seat in Derry since 1981.

Among those already eliminated include Martin McGuinness’s former special adviser, Conor Heaney, who stood in the Faughan ward.

Two sitting councillors – Gus Hastings of the SDLP and Thomas Kerrigan of the DUP – have lost their seats.

Turnout

Just over 1.3 million were entitled to vote in this proportional representation, single transferable vote election. Turnout was said to be steady at the polling stations throughout Thursday with the total poll expected to be close to or on a par with the 51 per cent turnout at the last local elections in 2014.

The DUP with 172 ran the most candidates. Sinn Féin stood 155 candidates, the Ulster Unionist Party 117, the SDLP 85 and Alliance 84.

Sinn Féin topped the poll with 153,000 votes followed by the DUP on 145,000 in 2014. The transfer system worked in favour of the DUP who ended up with 130 seats while Sinn Féin won 105. The UUP was third winning 102,000 votes and taking 88 seats, with the SDLP on 85,000 votes and winning 66 seats. The Alliance on 42,000 votes won 32 seats.

The Traditional Unionist Voice did best of the smaller parties winning 13 seats on a vote of 28,000.

The smaller parties such as the Greens, People Before Profit and the Progressive Unionist Party will be hoping to increase their vote and number of councillors.

The 11 council areas in Northern Ireland are: Antrim and Newtownabbey; Ards and North Down; Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon; Belfast City; Causeway Coast and Glens; Derry and Strabane; Fermanagh and Omagh; Lisburn and Castlereagh; Mid and East Antrim; Mid Ulster; and Newry Mourne and Down. Additional reporting: PA