Catholic UUP candidate claims anti-Alliance leaflet cost him his seat
Ulster Unionists rue 'significant damage' of veteran's controversial election flyer as Long hails watershed moment for 'move away from tribal politics'
The Ulster Unionists' most high-profile Catholic representative has said that a controversial anti-Alliance leaflet by a party colleague cost him his council seat.
Stephen McCarthy last night rounded on veteran Belfast councillor Jim Rodgers, accusing him of "damaging and misrepresenting the party". Mr McCarthy told the Belfast Telegraph it was "hard to swallow" that Mr Rodgers himself was re-elected while other colleagues "paid the price for his actions".
For a full breakdown visit our Election hub and check out the results from each council: Antrim and Newtownabbey --- Ards and North Down --- Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon --- Belfast --- Causeway Coast and Glens --- Derry and Strabane --- Fermanagh and Omagh --- Lisburn and Castlereagh --- Mid and East Antrim --- Mid Ulster --- Newry, Mourne and Down
Another UUP councillor who lost his seat, Jeff Dudgeon, said Mr Rodgers' leaflet had not helped his campaign and branded it "just silly".
Mr Rodgers could not be contacted for comment last night but he has previously defended his leaflet. The UUP was the big loser in last Thursday's election, shedding 13 council seats and seeing its vote share down two percentage points.
It was obliterated in Belfast where it is left with only two councillors in City Hall.
The leaflet for Mr Rodgers and fellow UUP councillor Peter Johnston in the Ormiston area of east Belfast alleged that the Alliance Party was "closely aligned" with the "IRA's political wing".
Mr Johnston lost his seat.
Mr McCarthy, from west Belfast, was a member of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council and the first public representative from a working-class nationalist background for a mainstream unionist party.
He lost his seat to Alliance. He said: "I believe that Jim Rodgers' leaflet cost me my seat.
"It came up countless times on the doors.
"The leaflet certainly isn't the only reason for the losses we suffered but it did inflict significant damage on the party and our candidates.
"It was totally at odds with our message of progressive unionism.
"It represented dog-whistle politics. He personally didn't pay the price but the party and others did and that is very hard to swallow."
Mr McCarthy said that as a veteran councillor in City Hall, Mr Rodgers should have been able to make a compelling case to voters on his record of delivery "without employing this below-the-belt dig at another party".
He said: "It is one thing to criticise another party's policy stance but to link Alliance to a terrorist organisation is unacceptable.
"I worked very well with Alliance members of Antrim and Newtownabbey Council. I'd describe them as civic unionists.
"I distanced myself from Jim Rodgers' literature during the election campaign.
"The leaflet did not have the approval of the party centrally but some voters naturally mistook what he was saying as the party's overall position.
"Younger UUP members were aghast because we know the party's future lives in broad consensus, confident unionism and not the old polarised positions of the past.
"Jim Rodgers alienated the moderate unionists we need to either hold on to or reach out to and win over."
Mr Rodgers' former Belfast City Council colleague, Jeff Dudgeon, who lost his seat in the south Belfast Balmoral ward, said: "I don't think Jim's leaflet helped me during the election campaign, I think it hindered me.
"The Alliance Party hates unionists and puts up with nationalists. But linking Alliance to the IRA is just silly.
"It was also unwise in the middle of an election.
"Alliance does vote with Sinn Fein on most non-money issues in City Hall. The DUP votes with Sinn Fein on money issues."
Mr Dudgeon said he hoped the UUP could address its "alarming decline" in Belfast.
"The party seems to have survived quite well elsewhere, but the eastern urban areas have suffered badly and that's a disappointment, not only on a personal level for me, but for the party in general."
The DUP remains the largest party in Northern Ireland. It secured 24% first-preference votes - up by 1% - and 122 seats, a loss of eight seats compared to the 2014 council elections.
Sinn Fein suffered a slight dent in its support base with 23% first-preference votes - a drop of 1%. The party walked away with 105 council seats, the same number of seats it won in 2014.
Alliance saw a surge in its support which increased five percentage points to 11.5%.
Its number of seats rose from 32 to 53.
The SDLP lost seven councillors and gained 12% of first-preference votes - a drop of almost two percentage points.
The Greens and People Before Profit polled very strongly, particularly in Belfast where both picked up new seats.
The TUV suffered a heavy blow to its representation after losing over half of its seats. The party now has six councillors.
TUV leader Jim Allister said: "Unionism needs to steady itself and rise to the challenge in the European election.
"Complacency will see two non-unionists elected. My message is clear - full transfer between all unionist candidates, a call which I trust can be reciprocated.
"All shades of unionism have now someone to vote for, so there is opportunity to maximise the unionist vote through thorough-going transfers. Unionist 1, 2, 3 is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. The Euro election is not about who tops the poll, but who wins two seats - unionism or non-unionism. Unionism needs to waken up."