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Counting gets under way in council elections – The Irish Times


The first councillors to claim seats in Northern Ireland’s local election have been announced.

In the Killultagh electoral area of Lisburn and Castlereagh Council, three candidates have reached the quota of 1,397 votes. They are Gary McCleave of Sinn Féin, Claire Kemp of Alliance and Thomas Beckett of the DUP.

Counting began at 11 count centres across the North at 8am on Friday, with a total of 462 seats on 11 councils to be filled. The count is expected to continue over two days.

The ongoing political crisis at Stormont, which has left the North without a functioning Assembly or Executive for more than a year due to the DUP’s protest over post-Brexit trading arrangements, had overshadowed a low-key election campaign.

Early suggestions are that turnout should be above the 50 per cent mark, which is in line with the 53 per cent recorded in 2019.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson visited the Lisburn and Castlereagh Council count and appears upbeat at an early stage of the day about his party’s prospects there.

He indicated that the DUP is polling well in the area, and would hold its seats in four district electoral areas (DEA) that are being counted so far. He also said they hoped to gain a seat in two DEAs, but it was too early to tell if that would happen.

“The Alliance Party is polling well in some of areas too, Sinn Fein have done well where you might expect them, so I think the pattern so far in Lisburn and Castlereagh is DUP holding its ground, Alliance perhaps making some gains, perhaps at the expense of the Ulster Unionist Party, and Sinn Fein perhaps making one or two gains at the expense of the SDLP,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“Our vote has gone up in some areas in Lisburn and Castlereagh but it’s too early to tell if we will make a gain. I think we were targeting a gain in a couple of areas but we haven’t seen the results yet for those two areas.”

More on some of the candidates running in these elections, which are a bit of a family affair, in some parts…

Mother and son combination Joyce and Stephen Donnelly are hoping to get elected in Fermanagh and Omagh Council. Stephen was the first Alliance councillor elected to the council in decades and could soon be joined by his mother.

Husband and wife team David and Jill Mahon are also hoping to form a partnership on Fermanagh and Omagh council for the DUP.

In Antrim and Newtownabbey, Alliance candidate Andrew McAuley is hoping to fill the shoes of his wife Vicki who topped the poll last time out but has since stood down. No pressure, Andrew….

Some turnout figures are starting to come through for individual District Electoral Areas (DEAs) – the individual wards that make up each council area, writes Freya McClements.

We don’t have an official turnout figure for all of Northern Ireland yet, but election numbers expert and deputy editor of the Slugger O’Toole political website, David McCann, says early indications point to an overall turnout of more than 50 per cent.

Last time around in 2019, the overall turnout was just under 53 per cent, so we could be heading for a similar figure.

It also looks as if predictions of higher turnout in nationalist areas – which was also the case in 2019 – have held up.

DEAs in Fermanagh and Omagh, Derry and Strabane, Mid Ulster and Newry, Mourne and Down have all reported turnout of more than 60 per cent; the highest so far appears to be Erne West, in the Fermanagh and Omagh council area, which had a turnout of 68 per cent.

This is good news for Sinn Féin, which is aiming to overtake the DUP as the largest party in local government, and which is traditionally good at getting its vote out. Last time, the beneficiary of that lower unionist turnout was Alliance.

As with any election, there are some interesting characters in the field in Northern Ireland this year, writes Jade McClafferty.

Bangor man Alan Graham became arguably the best known farmer in Northern Ireland some years back when he told pop star Rhianna to “cover up” after he realised a film crew he had permitted on to his land was filming the music video for We Found Love in his one of his fields in 2011. Graham is hoping to regain his seat for the DUP in Ards and North Down after losing it in 2019.

As the votes are being counted, more than 200 BBC journalists in Northern Ireland are on a 24-hour strike to protest cuts to jobs and programming. BBC Radio Ulster replaced its usual Friday fare – Good Morning Ulster, Nolan Show, TalkBack – with content from Radio 5 Live.

“The decision to strike on such a significant news day has not been taken lightly and reflects frustration on the part of NUJ members,” said Seamus Dooley, the NUJ assistant general secretary.

The staff shortage saw Friday morning news bulletins read by the BBC’s director in Northern Ireland, Adam Smyth.

Read our news report on the strike here:

Ballot boxes were moved to 11 sites for verification overnight before counting began at 8am.

The elections use the single-transferable-vote system where voters rank candidates in order of preference.

Some 462 council seats are being contested at this year’s election.

Northern Ireland’s 11 councils are responsible for setting rates, planning, waste collection as well as leisure services and parks.

It is the first electoral test for the parties since last year’s Assembly elections and takes place against the backdrop of the Stormont stalemate, with the powersharing institutions not operating as part of a DUP protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill said the election was an opportunity for voters to reaffirm last year’s assembly election, while DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson asked unionist voters to unite behind the party to “get back to winning ways”.

Newton Emerson writes there is a “bizarre lack of energy” around the council elections in Northern Ireland, “despite high-stakes contests within and between communities”. Read his column from Thursday here.

Here are five things to watch in the North’s council elections. First on the list – How will the DUP perform?

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