Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Alliance surge may be incentive to talks

Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance Party (Liam McBurney/PA)
Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance Party (Liam McBurney/PA)

Editor's Viewpoint

The local government elections here provided more interest and drama than many expected, and the surge for the Alliance Party, which gained 21 seats, has created much debate about what this really means.

There were surprise casualties, too, and it is sad to see experienced councillors like the UUP's Jeffrey Dudgeon lose their seats, but there were welcome new faces as well, including the DUP's first openly gay councillor, Alison Bennington.

There were some markedly less-new faces, including that of the Sinn Fein Councillor Barry McElduff, who was forced to resign as an MP after angering and deeply hurting the relatives of the victims of the Kingsmill atrocity by his tasteless posing with a Kingsmill loaf on his head on the anniversary of that dreadful event. His self-serving assertion that he maintained high standards on public life by resigning brings no comfort to the relatives who will find his re-election utterly galling.

The dissident republican Gary Donnelly topped his poll in Londonderry. He had earlier criticised the New IRA after it murdered Lyra McKee, and called on this vile terror gang to end its violence.

The UUP will be disheartened at dropping from 88 to 75 seats. The blame-game has begun, with one member claiming that the ill-judged UUP leaflet accusing the Alliance Party of voting with Sinn Fein "the political wing of the Provisional IRA" had contributed to the party's poor showing. The leaflet was not backed by the party's hierarchy.

In Londonderry the SDLP gained some ground, though its total of seats is down from 66 in 2014 to 59 currently. Overall the DUP vote is up slightly, though seats are down from 130-122. Sinn Fein took 23.2% of the vote while its seats tally still stands at 105.

The two main parties still have to be reckoned with. Our politics are still dominated by Orange and Green, and this is the background against which the latest Stormont talks take place. The big parties will determine whether a deal can be agreed or not. They almost did so in February 2018, and everyone hopes that this time round they will make progress.

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The Alliance success underlines that many voters want to move away from the polarisation that has dogged our politics for far too long, and the senseless murder of Lyra McKee is a strong motivating factor for greater agreement.

With Brexit looming large, some Remainers may have supported Alliance as well. The party's significant surge should be an incentive - and a sign - to those at the talks to acknowledge the increasing demand for people to work together and to move away from the past.

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