Republican dissident elected to Derry and Strabane Council as SDLP loses dominance
The election of a dissident republican and the SDLP's fall from the top spot for the first time in Londonderry sent shockwaves throughout the count centre.
At the end of the count, the party breakdown for the new Derry and Strabane Council was 13 Sinn Fein, 10 SDLP, eight DUP, two UUP and four independents.
Gary Donnelly, who is a prominent member of the 32 County Sovereignty movement, stood as an independent and topped the poll with 1,154 votes in the Moor DEA where the quota was 1,143.
He was elected on the first count and the news was greeted loudly by a large and jubilant contingent of supporters waving Irish flags at the entrance of the count centre.
This was not the only surprise announced by the deputy returning officer Sharon O'Connor over the two-day count for the DEAs of Waterside, Ballyarnett, Sperrin, Derg, Foyleside, Faughan and Moor that will make up the new Derry and Strabane District Council in 2015.
Long before counting was completed it was clear that for the first time since the party formed, the SDLP was not going to be the dominant force in Derry and the new 'super council' would be led by Sinn Fein.
However, with four independent candidates all winning seats, the Derry and Strabane Council elections could also have been dubbed 'Independents Day'.
Among the big shocks for the SDLP was the loss of Brenda Stevenson, who has been a councillor since 2006.
A tearful Ms Stevenson, who failed to secure a seat in Faughan, said the make-up of the new electoral wards had hit her party hard – although a debacle where the party withdrew support for a candidate two days before polls opened is also believed to have been a major factor. Sinn Fein will have a strong presence on the new council with a total of 13 candidates, although it did not escape the force of independents.
Sitting SF councillor Barney O'Hagan failed to get elected in the Foyleside ward where independent Darren O'Reilly topped the poll with 1,091 votes, just above quota.
However, Karina Brelsin said the election was still a great victory for Sinn Fein.
"We are delighted that we will be joining our party members in Derry to be the largest party in the new council," she said.
The DUP will go into the new council with eight councillors and the UUP's Mary Hamilton will be joined by party colleague Ross Hussey. He topped the poll in Derg.
The DUP polled well in the Waterside and Faughan DEA's with one of the youngest candidates, Gary Middleton, topping the poll in Faughan.
He dedicated both his campaign and election to his fiancee Julie Davis.
"The campaign gave me a great excuse to get away from the wedding plans but I will have to get back to them now," he said.
After two days of counting – including two recounts – the results of the Sperrin DEA were three Sinn Fein councillors, two DUP, one independent candidate, Paul Gallagher, and Patsy Kelly the sole SDLP winner.