Poll success for Independents in the North

NI21 leader Basil McCrea

Smaller parties and independents scored some notable successes in the North's local elections.

The Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin maintained the lion’s share of seats on the North’s new-look councils, however.

While the DUP won the most seats with 130, the party’s 23.1% share of the vote was down around 4% on the last local election poll in 2011.

Sinn Féin came second in terms of seats with 105 but garnered the largest percentage of the overall vote.

The republican party’s 24.1% share of first preferences was down slightly on its 24.8% in 2011.

The Ulster Unionists were the only one of the five main Stormont parties to increase the percentage.

As well as the upswing in UUP fortunes, the drop in the DUP share of the vote was also due to a strong performance by the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice party, which won 13 seats and 4.5% of the vote – up from 2% in 2011.

The planned two-day count drifted into three, with the Ormiston district of Belfast the last to declare in the early hours of Sunday.

Of the 462 seats on offer, the UUP won 88 , the SDLP 66 and the Alliance Party 32.

With the number of councillors being cut by more than 100 in a major restructuring that sees the old 26-council model replaced by 11 beefed-up “super councils”, the only useful comparator on the last local government election is percentage share of the vote.

The UUP, the once predominant unionist party which has been steadily eclipsed by the DUP in the last decade, has pointed to this election as proof of a mounting comeback.

Its 16.1% of first preferences was up almost 1% on the last council election. The SDLP’s 13.6% was down 1.4% on 2011.

Going into the poll, interest surrounded the performance of the Alliance Party, which has been criticised by unionists over the last 18 months for its decision to support a vote in Belfast City Council to limit the flying of the Union flag at City Hall.

But speculation that Alliance’s vote, particularly in Belfast, would collapse due to it losing supporters in working class loyalist areas turned out to be unfounded, with the party recording a solid showing.

Its 6.7% share of first preferences was down only 0.7% on 2011.

The Greens won four seats and the Progressive Unionist Party took three, as did Ukip.

Hardline republican Gary Donnelly, a critic of Sinn Féin, won a seat in Derry and Strabane. He was one of a number of independent successes across the North.

Meanwhile, the North’s newest political party NI21 secured a seat in Lisburn.

But the party’s future remains in doubt after internal upheavals forced its leader Basil McCrea to deny allegations of sexual misconduct made by a former party worker, and saw its European candidate Tina McKenzie resign from frontline politics before that poll is even counted.

The local government poll took place on Thursday at the same time as the elections for the European Parliament but the Euro candidates hoping to book one of three tickets to Brussels will have to wait until Monday to find out their fate.

The new councils will operate in shadow form for a 10-month period, before officially replacing the current councils on April 1 next year.

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