Alliance party surges but DUP and Sinn Féin remain dominant in Northern Ireland

Posted By: May 05, 2019

Greens and People Before Profit make gains in North’s local elections

Gerry Moriarty Northern Editor. Irish Times. Dublin.Saturday, May 4, 2019
The story of the local elections in Northern Ireland was that of the strong performance of the Alliance party which has increased its representation by more than 20 seats.

The party entered the contest on 32 seats but even late on Saturday night, with still some seats to be decided, it had won 53 seats.

Its base was largely in the greater Belfast area but in this election, it elected councilors in areas such as Omagh and Derry.

It now has councilors on ten of the North’s 11 councils – Mid Ulster the only local authority where it has no representation.

The Greens and People Before Profit from low bases of four seats and one seat respectively also performed well.

The Ulster Unionist Party which won 88 seats in the 2014 local elections was having a disappointing election while Jim Allister leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice, which won 13 seats five years ago, acknowledged his party was not doing as well as expected.

‘Tribal politics’

And while there were some shifts and changes in the DUP and Sinn Féin representation throughout the North’s 11 councils, they by far remain the two dominant parties in Northern Ireland.

The SDLP which won 66 seats in 2014 appeared to be holding its own although it may be down a small number of seats.

The Alliance vote was up close to five percent while the DUP vote was up by one percent.

• Ex-speaker for dissident republican group Gary Donnelly tops Derry poll
• DUP’s first gay candidate elected in Northern Ireland local elections

The overall Sinn Féin vote was down by about one percent, the SDLP down by 1.5 percent, and the UUP down by more than two percent.

The Alliance leader Naomi Long, who also will be contesting the European Parliament election on May 23rd in Northern Ireland if it goes ahead, said the message from the voters is that “they want to see politics that delivers”.

“They are not interested in the kind of tribal politics of the past in terms of unionism and nationalism. What they want is the kind of politics that puts people first,” she told the BBC.

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that the issue of his party’s partnership with Fianna Fáil did not feature significantly in canvassing.

“The main issue on the doors was ‘when are you getting back to work?’,” he said.

In advance of Tuesday’s talks involving the North’s five main parties and the British and Irish governments, that was a comment which all the other main parties said was a central theme of canvasses – that voters were urging the parties to reinstate Stormont.

DUP’s first openly gay candidate

The former Sinn Féin MP for West Tyrone Barry McElduff was elected to Fermanagh and Omagh District Council on Saturday afternoon.

He was forced to stand down as MP in January last year after he posed with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the anniversary of the 1976 Kingsmill massacre in which the IRA singled out and killed ten Protestant workmen in south Armagh.

One of the main talking points of the first day of counting was the election to Newtownabbey Borough Council of Alison Bennington, the DUP’s first openly gay candidate.

However, the South Down Assembly member Jim Wells, who lost the DUP whip last year in a row with the party leadership, remained highly critical of Ms. Bennington’s candidature, saying that former leader, the late Ian Paisley would have been “aghast” that she was elected.

DUP leader Arlene Foster, in turn, was critical of Mr. Wells’s comments. She said he should not have made those remarks to the media.

“(Jim) should have been coming through the normal routes, through the party, if he had concerns about those issues,” she said.

“We will look at all of those issues after the election. We will be looking at vote management schemes, we will be looking at where we did very well and we will be looking at bad behavior as well,” she said.

The North’s chief electoral officer Virginia McVea said that close to 700,000 votes were cast in the election and that the majority of the 11 councils in Northern Ireland had seen turnouts of more than 50 percent. The turnout in 2014 was 51 percent.

A total of 819 candidates stood in the election for 462 seats on 11 councils in Northern Ireland.

Fr. Sean Mc Manus