Sinn Féin are on course to become the largest party at council level in the North as the party looks set to repeat its success in last year’s Assembly elections.
Sinn Féin took an early lead with 26 councillors elected, followed by the DUP on 16. The Alliance Party has 5 seats, the UUP has 3 and the SDLP has 2.
The full result will not be known until Saturday, but at count centres across the North, the overall nationalist vote is up significantly. The nationalist vote share is up to 8% in the wider Belfast area, with Sinn Féin the big winner in terms of seats won so far.
The first results on Friday morning set the trend, with Gary McCleave of Sinn Féin almost doubling his vote while topping the poll in the Killultagh district of the unionist-dominated Lisburn and Castlereagh council.
On the first counts, there has been a pattern of poll-topping SF candidates either careening past the quota or effectively securing an additional seat for a running mate.
While the overall first preference breakdowns won’t be available today, Sinn Féin looks to have more than consolidated its vote since last year’s Assembly elections.
The SDLP’s vote is down since the last local elections, although a drop had been expected following a poor performance last year.
Independent republicans have polled strongly in Mid-Ulster, with a chance of a gain in Dungannon, possibly at the expense of Denise Mullen of Aontú.
But Sinn Féin will be looking to control that council after Darren Totten, Sean Clarke, Dominic Molloy, Cathal Mallaghan and John McNamee were all elected as councillors on early counts.
In Belfast, Sinn Féin secured an incredible 72.5% of the vote in the Black Mountain area, electing three councillors on the first count. Earlier, it claimed the council’s first seat with Geraldine McAteer elected in Balmoral, followed by Tina Black in Court.
On the unionist side of the equation, the DUP has struggled badly in western and border areas, where its Brexit-related boycott of Stormont is most unpopular. Its vote has largely held up in Belfast, while its main unionist rivals, the UUP, have failed to recover from a drop last year.
The moderate Alliance Party’s vote is broadly up, while the small hardline TUV are looks to have gained vote share but not enough to gain seats.
Some 462 council seats are being contested using the single transferable vote system, and counting is set to continue through tomorrow.
Voting took place largely without incident, although there were signs of discrimnation and intimidation in the voting process.
At least one voter was turned away for using an Irish driver’s licence as ID, despite the legislation making clear that it is acceptable.
And at a South Belfast polling station, nationalists were forced to cast their votes yesterday in a room filled with British flags (pictured). And one man who voted in the assembly hall of Blythefield Primary School said he felt like he was walking “a gauntlet” to vote while surrounded by union flags.
“To say I felt uneasy and intimidated would be an understatement,” he said.
“I was about to leave in disgust but then realised that would only serve the interests of the flag brigade.
“So I marched right in and demanded my vote but you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. There is no way any polling station should be allowed to be decked out like an Orange hall.”