Belfast Telegraph

Naomi Long: Alliance stunning success means it is truly Northern Ireland-wide party

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long (left) celebrates with colleague Nuala McAllister
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long (left) celebrates with colleague Nuala McAllister

By Naomi Long

To say the local election results were fantastic for Alliance is an understatement. With 53 councillors elected, a vote share increase to 11.5%, representation on 10 of the 11 local councils and our best election since 1977 by any measurable benchmark, I will admit it was beyond even the most optimistic of predictions we had before the polls opened.

But it was more than that. It was a watershed for Northern Ireland that will change the dynamic of local politics for good.

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

Along with Alliance's stunning performance, we saw increases for others, even individual progressive candidates. People on the whole showed they are less interested in politics of fear, while backing progressive politics which delivers.

Voters have shown they want the type of politics which puts people first, while sending out a message they want to move forward, away from tribal politics.

There's no doubting there is a lot of disillusionment with politics currently - stagnation at Stormont and deadlock at Westminster have switched many off. Instead, Alliance offered solutions consistently and people responded to that. Our candidates were hard workers across their constituencies, even those who previously were not elected to public office, on the local issues which matter.

We fought the campaign on those issues - such as increasing openness and transparency, protecting the environment and helping create a shared society. People right across the board and from all backgrounds responded to that positivity.

Instead of engaging in debates over whether Alliance was unionist or nationalist, we spent our time telling people what we would do if elected and how we would deliver for them. That was reflected in the results, which saw numerous candidates top their respective polls and grow our vote.

If ever people thought their vote didn't matter, this election is proof it does. In areas where we have had no elected representative for decades, if at all, there is now at least one Alliance voice on the local council.

When I became leader, I said one of my goals was to increase our representation west of the Bann. Now, thanks to the hard work of many and a continued focus on several areas, Alliance can truly say we are a Northern Ireland-wide party.

Rachael Ferguson and Philip McKinney are councillors in Derry City and Strabane, where there had been no Alliance representation since 1981, while scores of people were glued to updates from Omagh, where Stephen Donnelly delighted everyone by finally taking a seat.

Taken in isolation, they are superb results. Added to growth in areas such as Belfast, Antrim and Newtownabbey, Ards and North Down, Lisburn and Castlereagh, Mid and East Antrim and Causeway; holding our seats in Newry, Mourne and Down while almost adding to them; and going from nothing to three on Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, it is an incredible achievement and one we need to build on in the previously 'non-traditional' areas.

Indeed, while there will be a period of celebration, it is vital to not just sit back on our laurels anywhere - being the fifth largest party in overall size is not good enough, if we are to really transform the entire landscape of Northern Ireland politics in order to deliver the progress people want.

The first opportunity to do that is the forthcoming European election, where the momentum from this election and proof Alliance can draw votes from anywhere gives the potential for something really special. Our election campaign slogan was 'demand better'.

People have demanded better and given us the increased strength to do that. It's now up to Alliance to deliver it.

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