DUP and Sinn Fein will share the spoils
The DUP and Sinn Fein last night underlined their dominance of Northern Ireland politics.
With only 35 out of 108 MLAs elected last night, and no counts completed, it seems clear that the two largest parties, along with Alliance, have all polled well.
The SDLP is left hanging on for final results but its leader Margaret Ritchie scored a personal triumph in South Down where she topped the poll.
If the SDLP’s position is still in the balance, the UUP is a clear loser, while smaller parties like the Greens, the TUV, BNP and People Before Profit were facing a total electoral wipeout.
Jim Allister, the TUV leader, was much fancied to take a seat in North Antrim, where he got over 7,000 votes in last year’s Westminster election. However, his tactic of having a running mate, Audrey Patterson from Ballymoney, appears to have misfired and split his vote.
In 2007 the DUP won 36 seats with 30.1% of the vote. This was an all-time high and the party strategists were privately predicting that it would be pleased if it only lost two of these.
In the event it appears to have actually increased its vote.
By contrast, the Ulster Unionists appear to have lost seats and vote share. The UUP is the party whose first leaders founded the state of Northern Ireland 90 years ago and ran the place until the early 1970s.
Now it appears to be in headlong decline, losing seats and entering a painful period of soul-searching after every election.
The once mighty party lost all its MPs last year and changed its leadership. Since then its share of the vote has declined from 15.2% to 12.9%, just over a third of the DUP total and well below the SDLP’s 15.7% on the basis of the first preference votes counted yesterday. Precisely how these totals will be translated into seats under the vagaries of PR will only be found out later today or on Monday.
However, the omens are not good. In East Londonderry the UUP fielded Leslie Macauley, seen as a dynamic young female candidate, and a second runner. However, they were both outpolled by David McClarty, a former party veteran, who had been deselected. On the other hand, Fred Cobain, another veteran who stuck with the party, appeared to be in trouble in North Belfast
Last night Edwin Poots, the poll-topping DUP candidate in Lagan Valley, offered to co-operate with the UUP in the Assembly, a move which is being seen as a move to absorb more member of the UUP.
On the nationalist side, Sinn Fein polled well but there was no prospect of it overtaking the DUP or securing the position of First Minster.
Last night Martin McGuinness, the party’s Assembly leader, stressed the importance of co-operation between the DUP, Alliance and Sinn Fein, who he described as the “progressive parties” in contrast to the SDLP and UUP.