Swann vows to listen to voters after UUP decline
The Ulster Unionists' vote has fallen significantly as the Alliance Party made massive gains in the council elections.
UUP leader Robin Swann last night acknowledged Alliance's success but insisted his party was far from finished. He pledged he would "listen to what the voters are telling us" and learn from the poll.
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
Counting continues today but with over half of 462 seats across Northern Ireland filled, there has been a significant shift to the centre ground.
The DUP vote increased and the party elected its first openly gay candidate, Alison Bennington, who took a seat in Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council. Her victory was greeted by cheers and hugs from DUP supporters.
Party leader Arlene Foster said DUP opposition to same-sex marriage was unchanged.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson welcomed Ms Bennington's election. "If you believe in our party's principles, if you stand for our values, if you are prepared to go forward and seek selection and you are selected and elected by the people - then get on and do the job," he told the BBC, adding that opposition to Ms Bennington's candidacy expressed by DUP MLA Jim Wells was shared only by a minority of members.
The Greens and People Before Profit secured notable victories in Belfast where the performance of the day came from the SDLP's Paul McCusker and his poll-topping 2,856 vote in Oldpark.
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The son of murdered prison officer David Black, Kyle, took a seat for the DUP on Mid-Ulster District Council. "I'm absolutely ecstatic at being elected," he said. "I'm overwhelmed by the amount of support that I received."
He said that the murder of his father was always prominent in his thoughts. "It's been a big part of my drive as to do what I'm doing now. The reason why I got involved in politics is that I want to play my part in moving Northern Ireland towards being a truly peaceful society that thrives economically, culturally and socially."
In Belfast, DUP group leader Lee Reynolds failed to get elected in Titanic where the party fell short of the three seats it wanted.
In Oldpark, PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston lost her seat. UUP councillor Sonia Copeland dedicated her victory in Titanic to community worker Ian Ogle, who was stabbed to death in east Belfast.
Dr Anne McCloskey made history as the first candidate to be elected for new party Aontu. She won a seat on Derry and Strabane District Council.
Overall in the District Electoral Areas (DEAs) where votes have been counted, election pundit Nicholas Whyte said the Alliance vote had increased 4.1 percentage points from 2014 with the DUP recording a 1.6 percentage point rise. The SDLP's vote fell by 0.6 percentage points, Sinn Fein was down 0.8 points and the UUP 2.2.
Alliance topped the poll in a number of areas including six DEAs in Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council and in three Antrim and Newtownabbey DEAs.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Alliance leader Naomi Long said she was delighted with her party's performance.
"I am conscious we are only halfway through the election results but there is no doubting this is a fantastic day for Alliance," she said.
"While this is a council election, it is clear people have been left disillusioned with the stagnation at Stormont and deadlock at Westminster.
"While others engaged in the politics of fear, many people instead responded to Alliance's positive campaign by voting in a different way than they had before. That vote to increase the centre ground may well have changed the dynamic in terms of local politics."
Mrs Long added: "Some people and parties spent the campaign accusing Alliance of being unionist or being nationalist.
"We didn't engage in that but rather told people what we would do if elected; it is clear people desire that delivery, which has been reflected in the results."
The UUP leader admitted he was disappointed in how his party polled in Belfast.
"There's still a bit to go and more results to come," Mr Swann said. "It has been a day of mixed fortunes. We acknowledge we have issues in Belfast and we will work to address that.
"This has been a good election for the Alliance Party. The UUP will still have representatives in every council chamber in Northern Ireland.
"And we have had some good results such as John McDermott winning a second seat in Carrick Castle, Alex Swan winning a second seat for us in Downshire East alongside James Baird on Lisburn and Castlereagh Council with possibly more gains there. Louise McKinstry was a first-time candidate and was elected on the first count in Lurgan to Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council."
Mr Swann added: "I acknowledge this has been a good election for the Alliance Party, but the UUP are in this for the long haul. We will learn from these elections and come back stronger. We will listen to what the voters are telling us."