Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Winners and losers have no time to waste as European poll beckons

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

They're exhausted, elated, and in some obvious cases deflated - but Northern Ireland's political parties now must dust themselves down and prepare for another election.

The EU poll is just 17 days away and as one set of posters comes down, another lot is already going up on our lampposts. The runaway winner of the council election was the Alliance Party. Its leader Naomi Long enters the European race with that vital forward momentum.

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

Even though its vote fell, there's also ironically a bounce too for the SDLP, because the electoral obliteration that some us thought likely didn't materialise.

Its vote held up surprisingly well in Belfast, where it dropped only one seat when its representation on City Hall could easily have been halved.

The big question now is what effect the election has on the future of the party's new partnership with Fianna Fail. Expect a strong case now to be made to the leadership that the SDLP brand still has life in it, and there is no need to progress down the path of a merger.

It was a better election for the DUP than for Sinn Fein, which failed to make gains in areas it had targeted and suffered a significant drop in support in Derry.

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This bucks the trend that until now has seen Sinn Fein march further forward everywhere it has won a Westminster seat. The SDLP has never been able to reverse its decline, but Sinn Fein no longer seems uncatchable in Foyle.

Colum Eastwood's party must surely have a decent chance of retaking Mark Durkan's seat whenever that general election comes.

The Derry council results will worry Sinn Fein. Republican Gary Donnelly topped the poll in the Moor ward.

That's the second local government election where he's done so, showing that his support base hasn't shifted.

People Before Profit's Eamonn McCann and Shaun Harkin were also elected to the council, as were Aontu's Dr Anne McCloskey and independents.

People Before Profit is no longer just a one-man band on Belfast City Council, where it tripled its representation.

Sinn Fein's record on welfare reform came up time and time again on the doorsteps, as the effect of austerity is increasingly seen in working-class areas. There is no magic bullet for Sinn Fein on this issue.

In the more well-heeled constituencies of Castle and Lisnasharragh, the party also failed to meet its target. Mary Ellen Campbell, who was widely respected across the political spectrum in City Hall, paid the price of her party also running John Finucane in Castle. Sinn Fein's vote stayed static in Lisnasharragh where the Greens' support rose significantly, securing it an historic first seat.

Clare Bailey has had a dream election for a new party leader. With four councillors, the Greens are almost unbelievably twice the size of the UUP in Belfast City Hall. Party deputy leader Malachai O'Hara, elected in Castle, will bring strength and depth to the group.

Independent nationalists and republicans such as Dan Kerr and Barry Monteith in Mid Ulster and Gavin Malone in Newry all polled very strongly to win seats in traditional Sinn Fein heartlands.

By contrast, smaller parties and independents generally fared poorly on the other side of the political divide.

It is hard to see any long-term future for either the PUP or the TUV, based on last week's council results.

Outside the greater Belfast area, the Ulster Unionists' losses didn't turn out as bad as initially may have seemed likely. Its vote held up well in some rural areas.

But for a once dominant party to be reduced to two councillors in Belfast will hurt.

One member described the mood in the UUP's group office in City Hall as akin "to that in the US embassy after the fall of Saigon".

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