Alliance set to win more council seats despite Union flag dispute in Belfast: poll
Alliance is set to grab more seats at Belfast City Hall – defying unionist warnings the party would face 'meltdown' after the Union flag protests.
That is the projection of the Belfast Telegraph's polling partners LucidTalk who predict Alliance could gain nine seats in the new enlarged Belfast council area in next week's elections. It currently has six seats in Belfast.
It would mean Alliance maintaining its hold on the current balance of power on the city council – the cockpit of local government in Northern Ireland.
Bill White of LucidTalk said: "It's almost certain the next Belfast City Council will once again be a 'hung' council, in that it will have no overall majority."
And the trend analysis also includes the possibilities of Basil McCrea's NI21 gaining one seat, at least one seat for the TUV and the UVF-linked PUP taking a seat.
The slightly larger Belfast City Council area which comes into effect a year after next week's elections, has 60 seats – compared to 40 on the other 10 new councils.
The LucidTalk projections show Sinn Fein taking 20 seats in the city and the DUP 17 – with Alliance maintaining the balance of power. At present the two biggest parties have 16 each.
Ulster Unionists would gain one seat from their present three and the SDLP would remain on eight while the PUP goes down from two to one. But the Green Party's Ross Brown – who is also its Euro candidate – could help rob Alliance chief David Ford of a bigger Belfast foothold by taking a seat in the Alliance stronghold of Ormiston.
Mr White, managing director of LucidTalk, which last month also predicted the SDLP's Alex Attwood could rob the UUP of a European Parliament seat, said: "If you were into conspiracies you could say that those who designed the electoral boundaries for the new Belfast City Council area wanted it this way.
"The meltdown of Alliance support because of the flags issue, as predicted by some unionists, is not going to happen. However it goes, the council will still have no overall control, and the Alliance Party and others will hold the balance of power."
The survey predicts that the final totals would be – 20 Sinn Fein, 17 DUP, nine Alliance Party, eight SDLP, four UUP, one PUP, one NI21.
Mr White argued the DUP was not running enough candidates in key Alliance areas to take advantage of any Alliance meltdown, "suggesting that they too have calculated that this lowering of Alliance support hasn't happened".
"The only other party that could have taken advantage with any downturn in Alliance support is the Ulster Unionist Party, but the UUP is now so decimated in Belfast in terms of organisation and support that they've ended up running only 10 candidates.
"(Our) forecast is that they will win only four seats – and we rate only two of these as good probable wins. This is indeed a pitiful situation for the UUP, taking into account the once mighty hold they used to have on Belfast City Hall."
At the height of the Union flag protests 18 months ago, unionists predicted voters would turn on Alliance.
The DUP's Sammy Wilson said: "The support which the Alliance Party gave the combined nationalist and republican cabal in Belfast City Council in removing the Union flag has stirred emotions in a way which has embittered even the most moderate of unionists. The fact is that the Alliance Party gets most of its support in unionist areas and chases after what is called the 'soft unionist vote' yet is anti-unionist."
Former UUP leader Lord Empey called Alliance "a delivery system for the advancement of Sinn Fein's anti-British strategy".
Immediately after the council decision, Lord Empey added: "David Ford described the vote last night as a victory for the Alliance Party. Heaven help us if Mr Ford considers the removal of the Union flag as a victory. Not even Sinn Fein has gone that far."
Area by area
Lucidtalk's projections across the district electoral areas are:
- Collin Electoral area (6 seats): Areas covered: Dunmurry, Ladybrook, Lagmore, Poleglass, Stewartstown and Twinbrook.
Prediction: 5 Sinn Fein, 1 SDLP.
- Black Mountain (7 seats): Areas covered: Andersonstown, Ballymurphy, Beechmount, Collin Glen, Falls Park, Shaw's Road and Turf Lodge.
Prediction: 6 Sinn Fein, 1 SDLP.
- Court (6 seats): Areas covered: Ballygomartin, Clonard, Falls, Forth River, Shankill and Woodvale.
Prediction: 4 DUP, 2 Sinn Fein.
- Oldpark (6 seats): Areas covered: Ardoyne, Ballysillan, Cliftonville, Legoniel, New Lodge, and Water Works.
Prediction: 3 Sinn Fein, 2 DUP, 1 SDLP.
- Castle (6 seats): Areas covered: Bellevue, Cavehill, Chichester Park, Duncairn, Fortwilliam and Innisfayle.
Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 Sinn Fein, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP.
- Titanic (6 seats): Areas covered: Ballymacarrett, Beersbridge, Bloomfield, Connswater, Sydenham and Woodstock.
Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 Alliance Party, 1 UUP, 1 PUP.
- Ormiston (7 seats): Areas covered: Belmont, Garnerville, Gilnahirk, Knock, Sandown, Shandon and Stormont.
Prediction: 3 DUP, 3 Alliance Party, 1 UUP.
- Lisnasharragh (6 seats): Areas covered: Cregagh, Hillfoot, Merok, Orangefield, Ravenhill and Rosetta.
Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 Alliance Party, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP.
- Botanic (5 seats): Areas covered: Blackstaff, Central, Ormeau, Stranmillis and Windsor.
Prediction: 2 SDLP, 1 Alliance Party, 1 Sinn Fein, 1 DUP
- Balmoral (5 seats): Areas covered: Belvoir, Finaghy, Malone, Musgrave and Upper Malone.
Prediction: 1 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 Alliance Party, 1 Sinn Fein, 1 NI21.