Unionist hardliners count the cost

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A second day of counting in the local elections has confirmed that the traditional unionist vote is well down across the Six Counties, while the moderate Alliance Party are the main beneficiaries of the election.

The Alliance Party vote was up by 4.8 percent, although Sinn Féin and the DUP remain the two dominant parties in the Six Counties and are largely unchanged. The DUP gained 1 percent overall. Sinn Féin’s vote was down by 0.9 percent, the SDLP down by 1.6 percent, and the UUP down by 2.0 per cent.

The decimation of the extreme-right unionist parties continued in counting on Saturday, helping the DUP to keep its head above water thanks to gains at the hands of UKIP and the TUV. It was also a bad result for Ulster Unionist Party amid a general consolidation and reduction of the unionist vote.

Sinn Féin saw gains and losses but held its own amid a small but noticeable push against the main parties. It won a breakthrough two seats in Lisburn and Castlereagh and saw gains in Newry, Mourne and Down, as well as others in unionist areas. These balanced losses in more nationalist areas, mainly in Derry, where it lost three seats.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald said the election was “very interesting”. She said the electorate had shown the political stalemate at Stormont was “unacceptable” and that voters are “for good government” and “for equality”.

“Society is well ahead of those political parties and political leaders who wish to deny recoginition to citizens and citizens’ rights,” she said.

The SDLP lost a small number of seats, but party leader Colum Eastwood said he was pleased with the result, particularly in Derry, where he believes his party can now regain the Westminster seat from Sinn Féin. He said that the issue of his party’s partnership with Fianna Fáil did not feature significantly in canvassing. “The main issue on the doors was ‘when are you getting back to work?’” he said.

The big story on the nationalist side, however, was the leap in support for independent republicans, with six out of seven elected, four of them on the first count.

The biggest surprise was in Newry where former council worker Gavin Malone won election with almost two quotas. He thanked those who had helped him in nis campaign, including the retiring republican councillor Davy Hyland. He said: “The people have gave me a massive mandate and I’m really looking forward to the challenge of representing peoples concerns and views.”

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Dan Kerr won election in Torrent in a shock first count success alongside long-standing councillor Barry Monteith in Dungannon, Mid-Ulster (pictured, left and right). Bernice Swift was also returned in Fermanagh on an increased vote, while first time candidate Mark Gibbons won a seat in Crotlieve to serve on Newry, Mourne and Down council.

Well-known republican activist Gary Donnelly, who was returned in Derry, said he was “absolutely over the moon” after winning election in the Moor ward on the first count with a substantial increase in his vote. He said: “I’d just like to thank each of the nearly 1,400 people who have come out and endorsed the work that I’ve been carrying out in the Moor ward over the last 5 years.”

The new pro-life nationalist party Aontu, lead by former Sinn Féin TD Peadar Toibin, is unlikely to add to its breakthrough seat in Derry, but it still polled strongly in many areas. Mr Tóibín praised his party’s showing and said it would build on its success. “We have put down foundation votes across the north,” he said. “We’re going to build and consolidate to become a force in politics”.

The left-wing People before Profit also enjoyed an exceptional election, quadrupling their vote and winning three seats on Belfast council and just short of a second in Derry. The socialist party, which draws its support mostly from the nationialist community, is lead in the North by veteran campaigner Eamonn McCann, who won a seat for the party on Derry and Strabane Council.

Mr McCann said he “fought very hard for this” and “slogged around the constituency”, but said his party was already looking forward to the next battle. “We realise what we have to do now is to build or the future,” he said. “We need a louder voice for the type of class politics we represent.”

There was also increased support for the Green Party and nationalist independents, particularly in Fermanagh, but the surge for the Alliance Party will have the biggest effect on the makeup of the local councils in the North.

Alliance fell just short of outstripping the SDLP to become the fourth largest party in the North after almost doubling its vote share, from 6.6% to 11.5%. It won seats for the first time in Derry and topped the poll in every ward in Lisburn and Castlereagh, gaining four seats there.

Its opposition to Brexit was being credited with winning over the support of a large section of Remain voters fleeing the main unionist parties. Party leader Naomi Long, whose campaign to win a seat in the European Parliament, received a sharp boost. She said she was delighted with her party’s performance.

“While this is a council election, it is clear people have been left disillusioned with the stagnation at Stormont and deadlock at Westminster,” she said.

“While others engaged in the politics of fear, many people instead responded to Alliance’s positive campaign by voting in a different way than they had before. That vote to increase the centre ground may well have changed the dynamic in terms of local politics.”

Mrs Long added: “Some people and parties spent the campaign accusing Alliance of being unionist or being nationalist.

“We didn’t engage in that but rather told people what we would do if elected; it is clear people desire that delivery, which has been reflected in the results.”

In other developments, the Tories now have no councillors in the North of Ireland after the party’s only remaining representative lost his seat. David Harding, who represented the Coleraine ward in Causeway Coast and Glens Council, received the second lowest number of first preference votes.

And Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff completed a political comeback today by winning a seat on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.

This is the current scoreboard with counting still not completed in some wards:

Democratic Unionist Party 107 (-9)
Sinn Féin 89 (+1)
Ulster Unionist Party 71 (-10)
SDLP 52 (-4)
Alliance Party 47 (+19)
Traditional Unionist Voice 6 (-6)
Green 6 (+2)
People before Profit 4 (+4)
Progressive Unionist Party 2 (-1)
Aontú 1 (+1)
Independent 21 (+7)

This is the share of the first preference vote:

DUP 24.1% (+1.0%)
SF 23.2% (-0.9%)
UUP 14.1% (-2.0%)
SDLP 12% (-1.6%)
Alliance 11.5% (+4.8%)
TUV 2.2% (-2.3%)
Green 2.1% (+0.3%)
PBP 1.4% (+1.1%)
Aontú 1.1% (+1.1%)
PUP 0.8% (-1.2%)
UKIP 0.4% (-1.1%)

Full results will be published here when counting is completed this evening.

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