Alliance Party still holding balance at Belfast City Hall
Predictions flag row would cause meltdown wrong
Mixed fortunes hit the Alliance Party on the first day of the counts to elect Northern Ireland's 11 new super councils.
The party is in pivotal position to maintain the balance of power between unionists and nationalist on Belfast City Council – putting paid to unionist predictions it would face meltdown in the aftermath of last year's Union flag protests.
But it did not appear to have fared as well in other council battlegrounds – with several tight contests still ahead today.
Alliance leader David Ford told the Belfast Telegraph: "There's no doubt we are on course to hold the balance of power in Belfast City Council again.
"It looks at the minute as though we are on course for between eight to 10 seats", up from the current six.
In particular, the party was celebrating Michael Long – the husband of its deputy leader Naomi Long, who took the East Belfast Westminster seat from Peter Robinson in 2011 – after he topped the poll in the Lisnasharragh district of the city.
The potential total is in line with the projections of the Belfast Telegraph's polling partner organisation LucidTalk, which concluded unionist warnings of an Alliance meltdown in Belfast were wide of the mark.
But Mr Ford also admitted the party appeared to have "taken a slight knock" elsewhere and hopes of it also holding the balance of power on the new Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council, and Causeway Coast and Glens council, appeared to be fading.
With a second full day of counting still ahead and Alliance in contention for many of the remaining seats, early indications were that first preference votes for the party were slightly down.
And as the polls closed after 10 hours of counting, the party had only 10 seats out of the total of 462 on the new council compared to their total of 44 on the 26 councils which have 582 seats.
However, the more accurate comparison the parties will be studying today is vote share and overall, there were few surprises.
As the counting stations began to close last night the DUP was on 24.3%, Sinn Fein on 23.1%, Ulster Unionists on 17.2%, SDLP on 12.8% and Alliance on almost 6%.
In the last local government election in 2011, the DUP share was 27.2%, Sinn Fein 24.8%, Ulster Unionists 15.2%, SDLP on 15%, Alliance 7.4% and others collectively 10.4%
And in 2005, the DUP got 30% of the overall vote, Sinn Fein 23%, UUP 18%, SDLP 17% and Alliance 5%.
The result will consolidate Mike Nesbitt's leadership of the UUP – unless its Euro candidate Jim Nicholson loses his seat in the European Parliament election, which will be counted on Monday.
The apparently slipping SDLP performance could begin to put the skids under leader Alasdair McDonnell, in particular if the party's Euro standard-bearer Alex Attwood comes home with a less than creditable performance. Mr Attwood's brother Tim was fighting to hold on to the last seat in west Belfast.
The DUP and Sinn Fein will be satisfied with their performances overall, though both may have lost out on some seats by running too many candidates in particular district areas.
And among the smaller parties, Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice looked to be on course to gain seats in double figures after a total of six wins across a range of council areas.
There was no final confirmed figure on the overall turnout, which varied widely from between 55% to 59% in parts of the the west to below 40% in some districts of the greater Belfast area.
But, with few exceptions, there appeared to be no repeat of the massive electoral delays which hit the last double elections – for local government and the Assembly – three years ago this month.
The elections watchdog the Electoral Commission blamed poor planning, insufficient communication and the lack of an overall management plan, but there were few complaints yesterday. Counting was slow at some centres, however, in particular the Templemore counting centre for the new extended Derry and Strabane authority.
The parties' vote shares could alter dramatically as a result of tight fights, and how the transfers flow, for the final seats later today.
When final results are declared today unionists are expected to dominate six councils, nationalists are expected to dominate four, and in Belfast, the Alliance Party will hold the balance of power.
Northern Ireland council results 2014
|Democratic Unionist Party||130||144928||23.09|
|Ulster Unionist Party||88||101385||16.15|
|Social Democratic & Labour Party||66||85237||13.58|
|Traditional Unionist Voice||13||28310||4.51|
|Progressive Unionist Party of NI||4||12753||2.03|
|UK Independence Party||3||9311||1.48|
|People before Profit Alliance||1||1923||0.31|