The familiar monoliths of the DUP and Sinn Fein have cracked slightly
The election results are in and although most of the major victories were predictable, there is some shift in the political landscape. The familiar monoliths of the DUP and Sinn Fein have cracked slightly, with smaller groups on both sides making some gains.
On the republican side, dissidents and other splinter groups have gained a little ground while the TUV and, significantly, the UUP have fared better in the overall unionist vote.
These changes were perhaps inevitable. In a healthy democracy the major parties cannot always rely on unquestioning support – and mid-term disillusion with governing parties is common.
It's the same in Great Britain during mid-term elections when candidates from the governing party or parties can often fare poorly.
A multiplicity of voices across the political spectrum is good for democracy.
It is worrying, however, that dissident Gary Donnelly gets any support at all – never mind topping the poll in his ward. But the 32 County Sovereignty Movement is a micro group which offers nothing but a nihilistic outlook. On the positive side, it could be argued that this shadowy group is much better testing its support through the ballot box rather than being apologists for those who resort to the bomb and the bullet.
Over on the unionist side, the UUP will no doubt be satisfied with their improved showing, particularly as the party had the biggest share of first preferences in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon.
In doing so, they have underlined their staying power in some of the heartland unionist areas.
The DUP and the Alliance Party will both point to the positive aspects of their results, and while it is significant that Alliance has done well in east Belfast despite the Union flag controversy, both parties are squaring for a significant – and bitter – battle in next year's Westminster elections.
This year's local council results will herald a radically new pattern of local authorities across the province, and it is to be hoped that the new slim-line councils, and their new powers, will produce good results.
It will take people some time to get used to the new configuration, and the councils will not be fully operational until next year. However a new system and new faces can only be good for local council politics.