SDLP and Ulster Unionists suffer local election losses

 

THE ULSTER Unionists and the SDLP have suffered further electoral losses as counting in the local government elections continues.

The first day of the count showed growing Sinn Féin and DUP dominance at council level.

With more than 300 of the North’s 582 council seats declared last night following the election held last Thursday, the leading unionist and nationalist parties have consolidated their positions.

The Ulster Unionists have recorded significant losses, particularly in Belfast where their presence on the city council which they used to dominate may be reduced to perhaps as few as three seats out of 51.

The Alliance Party could double its representation on the council. Already holding the balance of power in city hall, its position as the chief recipient for disaffected Ulster Unionist voters, especially in eastern constituencies, is further enhanced. The SDLP is on course to lose an estimated 10 per cent of its seats across the North, according to one party insider, although the party’s results were patchy.

The party seems to have maintained its position in some areas, notably Derry, and slipped in others.

Peter Fitzpatrick, a defeated councillor in Down, called for party leader Margaret Ritchie to resign. The SDLP Assembly group, reduced to 14 from 16 following last week’s Stormont election, which was held on the same day, meets this morning to discuss the implications of the reversals in the two elections.

The council elections were the first to be held since 2005 and the results reflect the slippage in the positions of the UUP and the SDLP over the past six years.

The first preference totals seem to have reflected the trends recorded in the Assembly election with the SDLP down two or three percentage points from the 17 per cent recorded in 2005. The Ulster Unionists have slipped a similar amount from the 18 per cent they won six years ago.

The DUP appears on course to win the most council seats with about 30 per cent of first preferences. However, there were mixed results for the party which lost its overall control of Castlereagh council, once dominated by Peter and Iris Robinson.

The party lost support to the Alliance Party and the Greens, but balanced these results with gains in the greater Belfast area and in Lisburn.

As the first day of counting came to a close last night the DUP had won 114 seats and Sinn Féin had taken 92. The Ulster Unionists had 52 of its candidates deemed elected and the SDLP had 49.

The Alliance Party was doing well with 25 councillors and the Greens had one.

Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice colleagues had picked up four seats. Mr Allister will be the sole party member in the Assembly which meets on Thursday. There were 19 others declared last night.

Candidates from republican socialist group Éirígí, which opposes Stormont, polled well in West Belfast with about 2,000 first preferences.

Counting continues this morning and both the SDLP and Ulster Unionists, clearly disappointed at their tally of first preferences, are hoping more seats will come their way as preferences are traded in later counts.