Sinn Féin and DUP retain positions as key parties

SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance all find individual results to highlight

About a quarter of the 462 local council seats were declared after the first day’s counting. Photograph: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

About a quarter of the 462 local council seats were declared after the first day’s counting. Photograph: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

 

Sinn Féin and the DUP are on course to maintain their respective positions as lead parties of nationalism and unionism in Northern Ireland.

However, with about a quarter of the 462 local council seats declared after the first day’s counting, it is clear there are also positive trends which the other parties can highlight.

It is a high-stakes election with Dr Alasdair McDonnell and Mike Nesbitt leading the SDLP and Ulster Unionists into an election for the first time.

In Belfast, the expanded 60-seat council looks unlikely to be tipped into overall nationalist control under Sinn Féin and the SDLP. Alliance appears on course to maintain its position as king-maker, holding the balance of power.

In Derry and Strabane, the SDLP lost its dominance after falling victim to party infighting, a strong performance by assorted independent candidates and a strong showing by Sinn Féin, which is on course to become the largest party.

Former SDLP leader and Foyle MP Mark Durkan said recent events “could have been better-handled”. However there were bright spots for the party with a strong showing in south Belfast. The DUP is still by far the largest unionist party, although the Ulster Unionists have performed well in some rural parts of the west and in Fermanagh. However its rivals can all claim local victories.

Progress for Alliance

Alliance has polled well in east Belfast where the DUP is determined to regain the Westminster seat it lost to Alliance at the last general election. The party has been under pressure from unionists following the decision by City Hall to restrict the flying of the union flag.

In Antrim, the Traditional Unionist Voice had a strong showing in the Bannside area – a name synonymous with famous victories by the Rev Ian Paisley. The Progressive Unionist Party polled well in Coleraine, Co Derry, and in north Belfast where party leader Billy Hutchinson topped the poll.

Another potential threat to the DUP’s dominance came in the form of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), which attracted much unionist support and topped the poll in the Mournes area of south Down.

It was a tough day for the newest unionist party NI21, rocked by allegations concerning its leader.

Some 52 per cent turned out for the local government poll on Thursday and the European Parliament turnout could be slightly below that figure.