Counting is currently ongoing in the North’s local election results, with 462 councillors to be elected for the 11 new ‘super-councils’, which have replaced the existing 26 local councils.
The elections passed off relatively uneventfully on Thursday, with overall turnout estimated at around 55% with large variations from area to area.
The undoubted main story of the Six County election took place on Thursday evening, when a spectacular row erupted in the new moderate unionist ‘NI21’ party. Joint leader John McCallister declared on BBC talk show ‘The View’ that he could no longer work alongside fellow joint leader Basil McCrea, who he revealed is facing a party investigation into ‘inappropriate sexual activity’.
McCrea has denied the allegations, as well as claims his decision to redesignate the party this week as neither unionist nor nationalist was an attempt to force McCallister out of the organisation. The party’s candidates fared poorly in the election, rarely making it above a hundred votes.
Ashleigh Murray, 23, a former party worker, told the BBC this evening the alleged inappropriate behaviour occurred last year. In an interview, she said: “Who’s going to believe me, someone from my background?”
She said she started working for NI21 in the spring of last year and left in November. She said she did not raise the allegations with senior party officials until earlier this month.
Asked why she continued to go to work after the alleged misconduct took place, she said: “I needed the work, I left work with no qualifications. “He is a respected politician with a lot of power behind him.”
SDLP LOSE OUT
Counting will continue tonight and tomorrow, but despite one or two bright spots elsewhere, the SDLP have lost seats, particularly in Belfast and Derry. Party officials also indicated that their candidate, Alex Attwood, is out of the running for the third European Parliament seat when counting begins this weekend, while Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderso remain certain to top the poll.
Independent nationalists and republicans fared better than expected. This was most evident in Derry, where Gary Donnelly, Darren O’Reilly and Dee Quigley are well placed to win a seat each, and in Dungannon, where Barry Monteith topped the poll by some considerable distance.
There was stronger support than expected for the more hardline unionist parties, TUV and UKIP, but that did not convert into seats. The moderate Alliance and Ulster Unionist Party expressed satisfaction with their vote had held up.
One notable Sinn Fein success was the achievement of Mayor of Belfast Mairtin O Muilleoir, topping the poll in his Balmoral district, symbolically finishing just one vote ahead of the SDLP’s Claire Hanna.
Mr O Muilleoir said: “I’m very pleased, thrilled, over the moon. We fought a hard campaign in Balmoral and the response across the citizens I thought was grateful for the services we give.”
Skillful vote management in the Black Mountain area of Belfast helped Sinn Fein defuse a threat from eirigi’s Padraig Mac Coitir. A similar situation was being predicted in Collin, where Sinn Fein look set to win up to five out of the six seats.
However, socialist Gerry Carroll of People before Profit surprised pundits by taking a seat in Black Mountain, stopping SF from sweeping six out of seven seats. On his election, Mr Carroll said he would be “thorn in side of establishment”.
Meanwhile, Republican Network for Unity, who won 282 votes, or 2.5% of the vote in the Court ward, a result which they described as “an achievement” for their first election.
Elsewhere, strong gains in the English local elections for the extreme right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) has raised concerns that the party could hold the balance of power in the next London government.
UKIP secured 147 seats at the expense of all the main British parties and across England, with the exception of London. Speaking amid heavy media coverage of his election gains, party leader Nigel Farage said he would be contesting the next Westminster election in 2015 and that “the UKIP fox is in the Westminster hen house”.
Voting is still under way across the rest of Ireland and will continue until 10pm. By 7pm, polling stations around the country were reporting record low turnout of just 35 per cent in some areas, with levels even lower in Dublin, where turnout in city and county areas were averaging around 30 per cent.
Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams called on people to use their vote “wisely”. He said the “saga” of the severance 70,000 euro payment for Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who announced yesterday he had donated the money to a charity, had underlined the dysfunctionality of the Fine Gael/Labour coalition government.
“A vote for Sinn Fein is a vote against the bank debt burden, unemployment, forced emigration, the property tax and water charges,” he said. “It is a vote for genuine republican politics based on fairness and the interests and rights of citizens.”
With counting only underway in around half of the North’s electoral areas, here are the local election results in the Six Counties, in terms of seats gained and percentage of the vote, so far:
DUP 34 (25.5%)
Sinn Fein 29 (21.7%)
UUP 30 (17.6%)
SDLP 12 (11.7%)
Alliance Party 9 (6.3%)
TUV 3 (4.5%)
PUP 2 (2.5%)
UKIP 2 (1.8%)