Alliance makes strong gains but UUP loses 16 seats as its vote freefalls
The Alliance Party has emerged as the big winner in the local council elections, with the UUP performance best described as going into freefall.
DUP and Sinn Fein councillors hold more than half the local government positions, but it was the smaller parties who captured the headlines — for totally different reasons.
As two days of counting finally finished, the two major Stormont parties accounted for more than 310 of the 582 council seats.
Mirroring their performance in the Assembly election, the Alliance Party made strong gains, jumping from 30 to 44 seats and doubling its representation in Belfast.
The DUP was marginally down from its total at the last council elections six years ago — with a total of 175 seats compared to 182 in 2005, which was a massive increase from its 131 in 2001.
The party made gains in a number of areas including Belfast and Lisburn, but lost its absolute majority in Peter Robinson’s former fiefdom of Castlereagh because of gains made by Alliance and the Green Party.
Sinn Fein, however, was up from 126 in 2005 to 138, continuing the steady rise of the party from 108 seats in 2001.
It also maintained its position as the biggest party in Belfast, with 16 councillors compared to the DUP’s 15.
Ulster Unionists finished with just 99 seats — down from 115 six years ago and 154 10 years ago, an overall loss of over 50 seats.
The SDLP was left with 87 councillors — down in strength by 14 from six years ago, which was a reduction from 117 in 2001. Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice took six seats, the Greens took three, Progressive Unionists two and there were 27 independents elected.
With no repeat of the serious delays which dogged the Assembly counts, the first result emerged 45 minutes after counting began on Monday morning.
In terms of the most gains, however, Alliance was out in front.
Leader David Ford said: “Not only have we won an extra 14 council seats, we also very significantly increased our vote across Northern Ireland from the last council election.
“This is our best local election result since 1981 in terms of vote share.
“We now have more seats than the UUP and the SDLP in the greater Belfast area, where half the population lives.
“We also did so well on Castlereagh that the DUP do not now have an absolute majority on the council.
“We have won new seats on councils like Down, Craigavon and Ballymena where we were not previously represented for a period of time.”
Among a number of notable results, the DUP's Sharon Skillen, who had held Iris Robinson’s former seat, lost her place.
In a breakthrough for his party in Larne, Sinn Fein's Oliver McMullan topped the poll in his ward, while Paul Berry, suspended from the DUP in 2005, was re-elected to Armagh City Council as an independent.
Former Sinn Fein MLA Gerry McHugh, who resigned and became an independent in the last Assembly, also lost his seat on Fermanagh District Council.