Gains for Greens as smaller parties surge in Belfast
Smaller parties were the big winners in Belfast City Hall yesterday as Alliance and the Greens made significant gains in Northern Ireland's largest council area.
Belfast city's first councillor was elected shortly after noon when Sinn Fein's Danny Baker topped the poll in Collin with 2,196 first-preference votes. Overall, though, it was a disappointing day for Sinn Fein, who lost two councillors in the Collin and Titanic areas.
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Michael Collins of People Before Profit gained a seat in Collin at the expense of Sinn Fein, which saw its representation in the area drop from five to four with the elimination of sitting councillor Charlene O'Hara.
In Titanic, the party's Mairead O'Donnell lost her seat to Alliance despite 1,102 first-preference votes.
Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald said while she was disappointed with some of the party's losses, it was not "a foregone conclusion" and that Saturday "will see gains".
The DUP suffered a blow in Titanic with the elimination of the party's Belfast council group leader Lee Reynolds, who was excluded on the fifth count having only received 586 first-preference votes.
On her visit to City Hall, DUP leader Arlene Foster said running Mr Reynolds as part of a three-seat bid in the area was "always a bit of a gamble" and she was "very sorry he won't be on council anymore".
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It was a great day for the Greens in Botanic as they doubled their City Hall representation by taking two seats.
First-time candidate Aine Groogan topped the poll in the Botanic target seat with 1,401 first-preference votes after party leader Clare Bailey missed out in 2014. Ms Groogan said the party's strong Green vote across the city was a sign that voters were embracing "new and better-style politics".
Alliance were also celebrating a hat trick after taking three seats in the Ormiston DEA.
Having been eliminated on the tenth count five years ago, Ross McMullan topped the poll this time with 2,622 first-preferences and was joined by returning councillors Peter McReynolds and Sian O'Neill.
Party leader Naomi Long said there was much anger at polling stations on Thursday over an election leaflet, issued by two UUP candidates, claiming Alliance's Belfast councillors had a record of "voting with the Provisional IRA's political wing".
Speaking at the count yesterday, Mrs Long branded the move "a slur beyond imagination".
Alliance also made gains in Titanic as Michelle Kelly was selected to replace retiring representative Brian Armitage alongside Carole Howard.
In Botanic, the city's deputy lord mayor Emmet McDonough-Brown retained his seat for the party.
The UUP's sitting councillor Sonia Copeland retained her seat in Titanic and dedicated her win to Ian Ogle, who was murdered in east Belfast in January.
The party's veteran councillor Jim Rodgers faced a 12-hour wait before he was finally declared returned in Ormiston but it was bad news for his running mate Peter Johnston, who lost his seat.
The SDLP's Paul McCusker topped the poll in Oldpark, taking 2,856 first preferences, while his party colleague Brian Heading was returned in Collin and newcomer Gary McKeown in Botanic.
It was a bad day for the PUP's Julie-Anne Corr Johnston who lost her seat in the Oldpark area after her first-preference votes dropped from 774 in 2014 to 575.
Her party colleague Dr John Kyle retained his seat in Titanic with 1,027 first preferences.
By late last night, half of Belfast's newest councillors had been elected in the 60-member local authority.
Counting of votes for the remaining areas of Balmoral, Black Mountain, Castle, Court and Lisnasharragh will get under way this morning, with all Belfast seats expected to be filled today.
Openly gay DUP candidate lands seat
Alison Bennington: The first openly gay candidate to stand for the DUP has been elected in Antrim & Newtownabbey Council.
Ms Bennington, who runs a consultancy firm in the sports sector, gained 856 first preference votes and was elected on the sixth count.
Ms Bennington's candidacy had sparked controversy within the party, which opposes the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
Party leader Arlene Foster suggested Ms Bennington's election did not necessarily mean a shift in the party's policy on same-sex marriage.
"She's a committed unionist and that's why she decided to put her name forward for the DUP, as many others did right across the country, and she was selected on that basis," she told UTV. "It sends out a message that the DUP is open to everyone who signs up to the policies of the DUP."
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds also welcomed Ms Bennington's election. "Our party is open to everybody who subscribes to the aims and objectives of our party, wants to ensure the union is defended and we deliver all our policies," the North Belfast MP said. "She's been a member of our party in the South Antrim association for many years and we are delighted now she is a councillor."
Controversy over Ms Bennington's candidacy continued last night after former DUP Stormont Minister Jim Wells expressed his "intense opposition" and said many party members were "shocked" by the decision to let Ms Bennington run as a candidate.