Suzanne Breen: Welcome influx of fresh voices who will make themselves heard
The cynics said it would be a dull, tedious affair bringing more of the usual offering that passes for politics here.
But Northern Ireland’s council election defied the gloomy predictions as voters blew away the cobwebs with a range of fresh choices. The runaway winners were the Alliance Party which topped the poll in more areas than it could ever have dreamed of and looks set to record its best election result in decades.
Visit our Election hub and check out the results as they come in 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
Naomi Long is now perfectly poised to make a strong bid in the EU election in just three weeks time. There were also significant wins for People Before Profit and the Greens.
It was a very good day for the DUP which not only increased its vote but overturned an old tradition as its first openly gay candidate, Alison Bennington, was elected.
Internal critics may whinge but the party is finally beginning to move with the times and there will be no reverse gear on this one.
It’s also been a surprisingly positive election so far for the SDLP. Its vote stood up remarkably well — given its confusing new partnership with Fianna Fail — and the party even made gains in some areas.
The big loser was the UUP which is in danger of being reduced to just two councillors in Belfast, Jim Rodgers and Sonia Copeland, unless its candidates come through in today’s counts.
Surprisingly, yesterday wasn’t great for Sinn Fein with the party failing to make the gains expected in several areas and losing two councillors in Belfast.
The election of independent republican candidates across Northern Ireland — some of whom topped the polls — also signifies some unease with the party’s strategy in its political heartlands.
The results in working-class nationalist north and west Belfast will also give Sinn Fein cause for concern.
The SDLP’s Paul McCusker secured a staggering 2,856 votes — 1,200 over the quota — in Oldpark.
Such a massive win is unheard of for the SDLP nowadays and is testimony to the candidate’s tireless constituency work.
His transfers helped elect People Before Profit’s Fiona Ferguson who will certainly make her presence felt in the corridors of City Hall.
With one seat in the bag in west Belfast and another likely today, People Before Profit seems set to triple its council representation.
The Green Party is on course to do the same with a poll-topping performance in Botanic, a big win in Ormiston, and a seat on the cards in Lisnasharragh today.
The new Belfast City Council will be markedly different in tone from its predecessor with a range of diverse young voices.
The Ulster Unionists’ Ormiston leaflet linking the Alliance Party to the IRA totally backfired.
Serious questions must be asked of the party leadership’s election strategy for the city. It is almost impossible to see the UUP coming back in Belfast now.
Surely it’s time to call a halt to presenting Alliance as closet Provos?
The east Belfast electorate has delivered its verdict on that.