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Sinn Féin on course to become largest party as counting resumes – The Irish Times


Welcome to day two of our coverage of the council elections in Northern Ireland.

If you’re just joining us, this is the latest this morning from our Northern Editor, Freya McClements.

Sinn Féin is on course to overtake the DUP as the largest party of local government as counting resumes in the North’s local elections.

Friday was very much Sinn Féin’s day as the first day of counting saw the party emerge as the big winner after Thursday’s vote.

With just under half the 462 seats on 11 councils filled, on Saturday morning the state of play was Sinn Féin 98, DUP 85, Alliance 40, UUP 36, SDLP 21 and others 18.

Sinn Féin has gained more than 20 seats, which would put it ahead of the DUP which is expected to return around the 122 seats it took in the last council election in 2019.

Alliance has gained around eight seats and is expected to pick up more on Saturday.

Both the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and SDLP have lost more than ten seats each.

One of the day’s major fallers was the leader of the Green Party, Mal O’Hara, who lost his seat in the Castle DEA in north Belfast, a year after his predecessor Clare Bailey stood down after losing her seat in the Assembly.

To get you up to speed, here are some of the best reads:

Our Northern Editor, Freya McClements, writes: The other success story of these elections has been Alliance, though here the celebrations have been more muted.

It was always going to struggle to live up to the expectations raised by its stellar performance in last year’s Assembly election, when it more than doubled its representation at Stormont; while it was always going to gain seats this time round, it was clear it was not going to be on that sort of scale.

Nevertheless, as party leader Naomi Long pointed out in a UTV interview on Friday: “we look likely to be the only party outside of Sinn Féin that actually makes significant gains.”

So it has proved. On 53 seats going into these elections, the feeling within the party was that it would add around ten; though results are still coming in it has made gains, and looks set to overtake the SDLP and potentially even the UUP to become the third-largest party at council level.

Yet in Derry and Strabane Alliance took a blow to its ambition to expand into the west of Northern Ireland when both its councillors in the area – the party’s first since the 1970s – lost their seats, and in the city where it had opened a new constituency office to great fanfare only a few months before.

Traditionally, Alliance has never had much purchase west of the Bann, and this is undoubtedly a setback; that said, it has been somewhat offset by seats in Enniskillen – Alliance’s first ever in Fermanagh – and Limavady, both of which will give it a starting point as it seeks to make future inroads in the western counties.

The Alliance deputy leader, Stephen Farry, said there were several dynamics at play but “clearly Sinn Féin have done extremely well west of the Bann which have distorted, shall we say, some of the previous patterns of party voting.

“I think we were simply just blown away in that particular context,” he said.

With just six seats left to fill in the Ards and North Down Council, Sinn Féin has yet to get anyone over the line. The DUP holds 13 seats with the Alliance party coming in second with nine.

Former Green Party leader Rachel Woods has returned as an elected councillor in Hollywood and Clandeboye DEA. Woods previously lost her seat in the Assembly election.

After stage 8 of counts in Braid DEA Matthew Warwick (TUV) is deemed elected and fills the final seat. The council is made of up Archie Rae (SF), Beth Adger (DUP), William McCaughey (DUP), Christopher Jamieson (TUV), Alan Barr (UUP) and Chelsea Harwood (Alliance).

Stage two in Erne West adds to Sinn Féin’s success as Declan McArdle joins Elaine Brough and Anthony Feely to be elected. That means the three Sinn Féin councillors standing in the DEA have all been elected and have topped the poll. It also sees Sinn Féin take half the seats on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.

The first candidate elected in Belfast this morning is the DUP’s Ruth Brooks – with “1690″ votes.

Ms Brooks, who works in the constituency office of DUP MP Gavin Robinson, was standing for the Titanic area in the east of the city and topped the poll.

One person coming out of the count centre was overheard to say: “make sure you mention the 1690″.

She is married to DUP MLA David Brooks.

It is expected to be a long day in Belfast – with 29 seats yet to be declared.

Sinn Féin claims the first two seats in the Newry DEA after the stage one count with Valerie Harte and Cathal King passing the quota.

Counting comes to an end in The Glens after stage 6 with all seats filled. Sinn Féin have a strong hold with three councillors being elected: Cara Mc Shane (SF), Oliver Mc Mullan (SF) and Maighread Watson (SF). They will be joined by the DUP’s Bill Kennedy and Margaret Anne McKillop for the SDLP.

Three of the council areas have completed their count and the results in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC), Mid Ulster and Lisburn and Castlereagh repeat the pattern we’ve seen across the board in these elections, writes Northern Editor Freya McClements.

First of all, Sinn Féin’s success – it upped its number of seats in all three council areas and became the largest party in ABC council for the first time, taking 14 seats compared to 10 in the last election and overtaking the DUP, even though it also increased its tally of seats from 11 to 13.

It was already the largest party in Mid Ulster, but even there it increased its representation, from 17 to 19 – virtually half the seats in this 40-seat council – whereas in Lisburn and Castlereagh – a unionist-dominated council – it doubled its seats from two to four.

So in this election Sinn Féin has both increased its vote share – to bring home additional councillors in areas where it was already established – and expanded into District Electoral Areas (DEAs) such as Lisburn North, where it has previously not been represented – all of which points to further potential for growth in the future.

Often this has been at the expense of the SDLP – it had a disastrous election in ABC, falling from six seats in 2019 to only one this time around – but it has held up better than expected in some areas, including Mid Ulster and Lisburn and Castlereagh, and results like the success of Paul Doherty and Seamus de Faoite in Belfast have given the party a boost.

Lisburn and Castlereagh is also a great example of what has been happening within the unionist vote. The DUP has largely held steady – down from 15 seats in 2019 to 14 this time – but the UUP has collapsed, down from 11 seats to six, and the main beneficiary has been Alliance – up from nine seats to 13.

Questions have already been asked about the position of the UUP leader, Doug Beattie; speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Saturday morning, the former leader Mike Nesbitt backed him but also called for a “fundamental realignment of unionism” in the wake of this election.

Unionism in general will have plenty of thinking to do post-election; while the DUP’s vote appears to be holding up, this is clearly no longer enough when faced with an energised Sinn Féin and nationalist voters who are angry at the DUP’s continuing boycott of the Assembly and the block on Michelle O’Neill as first minister, and who are making that anger felt at the ballot box.

Three unionists are the first to take seats in Comber DEA. Libby Douglas (DUP) topped the poll and is joined by Philip Smith (UUP) and Trevor Cummings (DUP). Comber DEA had a turnout of 48.84% with 15,112 eligible votes. Ards and North Down Borough Council.

The first count of Omagh DEA has resulted in three councillors coming in over the 949 quota. Barry McElduff was first over the line for Sinn Féin, followed by the DUP’s Errol Thompson and the third seat went again to Sinn Féin with Catherine Kelly.

In Mid and East Antrim we see 5 councillors take their seats as counting finishes in Coast Road DEA. A unionist majority sees Andrew Clarke (DUP), Gerardine Marie Mulvenna (Alliance Party), Angela Smyth (DUP), Maureen Morrow (UUP) and Sinn Féin’s James Mc Keown all take seats. Meanwhile in Braid DEA at Stage 4 Chelsea Harwood is deemed elected for the Alliance Party.

From Seanín Graham in Belfast:

Counting for the first five of Belfast City Council’s ten district electoral areas is complete, with Sinn Féin in the lead on 11 seats.

Eight seats were secured by the DUP, five by Alliance, four by the SDLP, one by the Greens and one by the TUV.

Counting got under way this morning for the Botanic, Collin, Oldpark, Ormiston and Titanic areas.

There are a total of 60 seats up for grabs in Belfast, which is the North’s largest functioning elected body in the North (in the absence of Stormont).

In recent years, the city council’s make-up reflects the Stormont Assembly’s composition – with Sinn Féin holding the most seats followed by the DUP and a growth is the so-called Others, including the middle-ground Alliance Party, since the last 2019 election. No one party commands a majority.

Former SDLP councillor Paul McCusker, who topped the poll at the last council election in 2019, is now running as an independent candidate for the nationalist Oldpark area.

Looking to Causeway Coast and Glens, The Glens DEA is moving slowly with no one elected in stage 3 or 4. Ballymoney is off to a quick start with three councillors elected at the first stage of counting, Mervyn Storey (DUP), Ciarán Mc Quillan (SF) and Daryl Wilson (UUP).

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