What to look out for in Northern Ireland council election vote results

Counting for the 2023 Northern Ireland local government elections is well underway.

Ballots were opened on Friday morning to determine the 462 members of Northern Ireland's 11 councils. Some 807 people were on the ballot.

And while the councils normally deal with matters such as bins and burials, the final result will give a reading on how the electorate feel toward the current political stalemate.

The single transferable vote system Northern Ireland uses means counting is not straight forward and can take its time. The full result of how Northern Ireland voted may not be known until Saturday afternoon.

UTV will be live from 4pm on Friday with special programme Vote 23.

Here UTV Political Editor Tracey Magee looks at each council area and what to look out for.


60 seats - 10 electoral areas 121 candidates 2019: Ten seats changed hands. The big loser was the UUP who lost five out of its seven seats. The Green party picked up three while Alliance gained the other two. Sinn Féin had a mediocre performance. Lost seats in Collin (to PBP) and Titanic (Alliance) but made again from SDLP in Black Mountain. Still the largest party with 18 seats. DUP have 15, Alliance 10. SF 31,771 (28.2%) 18 councillors DUP 24,317 (21.5%) 15 councillors Alliance 17,683 (15.7%) 10 councillors SDLP 10,225 (9.1%) 6 councillors UUP 6,987 (6.2%) 2 councillors Green 6,785 (6.0%) 4 councillors PBP 5,888 (5.2%) 3 councillors PUP 3,458 (3.1%) 2 councillors Ind 2,065 (1.8%) Aontu 1,420 (1.3%) What to watch out for: Friday DEAs counted Balmoral; Black Mountain; Castle; Court; Lisnasharragh Saturday DEAs counted Botanic; Ormiston; Oldpark; Collin; Titanic UUP: Went down to two seats but quickly picked up two when John Kyle defected from the PUP and Carole Howard moved from Alliance. But Dr Kyle is not standing while Howard is running in Ormiston this time alongside veteran Jim Rodgers. Will the party go back to two?

SF: A key target this time will be getting a councillor in east Belfast. Can they get back the seat they lost in Collin from PBP Cllr Matt Collins? DUP: Can they maintain their overall tally of 15 and fend off the TUV? With John Kyle not standing there is theoretically a unionist seat up for grabs in Titanic. Could it go DUP or Alliance? SDLP: Suffered a seismic loss when Paul McCusker who got a thumping 2,856 (25% of the Oldpark votes) announced he was standing as an independent. Charlotte Carson is going up against him in Oldpark for the SDLP. The party has a decent profile in south Belfast but is defensive elsewhere. The party’s overall percentage has been trending downwards. Green Party: Won three seats and all the candidates standing again, but given Clare Bailey lost her seat in south Belfast in the Assembly election can the party maintain its momentum? Party standing 10, including the three sitting councillors. PBP: Can the party ward off a SF assault in Collin where they lost out PBP’s Matt Collins? The party gained two seats to an overall three last time. It’s standing eight candidates including its sitting three councillors. TUV: Party is snapping at the DUP’s heels with six candidates in the race. Watch out for Anne Smyth who is standing in Titanic, she is the mother of BBC NI Director Adam Smyth.

ANTRIM & NEWTOWNABBEY 40 seats - 7 DEAs In 2019 unionism fared badly losing six seats. TUV lost two seats, meaning it lost all its representation. DUP lost a seat to Alliance, but remained the largest party overall. Alliance did best winning three mores seats taking its total to seven. SF also added two, bringing it to five overall.

Changes in demographics have led to unionism being squeezed. DUP have 14 seats (-1), UUP 9 (-3) & TUV were wiped out (-2) – bringing unionism’s total to 23.

Alliance and SF gains as well as SDLP with four seats mean non-unionists currently have 16 with one independent. DUP 15,100 (31.5%) 14 councillors UUP 9,726 (20.3%) 9 councillors Alliance 8,970 (18.7%) 7 councillors SF 6,269 (13.1%) 5 councillors SDLP 3,742 (7.8%) 4 councillors Ind 2,564 (5.3%) 1 councillor TUV 804 (1.7%) UKIP 473 (1.0%) Green 341 (0.7%) What to watch out for: Will unionism retain overall control? Likely it will stay in unionist hands but it might be close. How does SF do – the party is fielding councillors in all seven DEAs for the first time? SF cllr Gerard Magee facing police probe over accusations he forged his nomination papers. The party is denying wrongdoing.

How does Alliance do? It is likely to do well in Doagh with an influx of new homes, but there’s suggestions the party’s support is growing faster than it is able to handle. Last year former Alliance Cllr Glenn Finlay died suddenly after being suspended by the Alliance party, replaced by Jay Burbank who’s standing again.

DUP’s Paula Bradley – the party Deputy leader and former MLA - standing in Glengormley attempting to fend off five TUV candidates.

Can SDLP hold its 4 seats? All four sitting councillors are standing again. How will the Ulster Unionist party do? The party lost three seats last time and this time veterans former MLA Frazer Agnew and Roderick Swann aren’t standing.


2019DUP 16,759 (33.4%) 14 councillorsAlliance 11,162 (22.2%) 10 councillorsUUP 8,943 (17.8%) 8 councillorsGreen 5,106 (10.2%) 3 councillorsInd 4,321 (8.6%) 3 councillorsSDLP 1,621 (3.2%) 1 councillorTUV 695 (1.4%) 1 councillor

Significant rise in support for Alliance (+8.8%) adding three new seats, making them the second largest party. Made gains from DUP and UUP. Best performance in NI for Green Party (+10.2%) but no extra seats. Won three in 2014. DUP largest party with 14 seats. Lowest turnout 43.6% compared to overall NI turnout of 52.7%.

What to watch out for:

Can Sinn Fein finally get a seat here? It’s the only council where the party does not have representative. Former Down hurler Noel Sands from Portaferry hoping to break the party’s duck. The party only got 0.5% in 2019. Alliance surged here last time – vote increased from 13% to over 22%, taking 10 seats and second place in overall numbers. Any gains will likely be at the Greens expense.

Greens almost doubled its vote share but didn’t take any more seats – largely due to the Alliance surge. It is fielding six candidates this time.

UUP were knocked into third place last time even though it took 851 more votes than in 2014 but managed to hold on to the seat held by Alan Chambers as an independent in 2014.

SDLP held onto its sole seat in 2019 although its vote share dropped slightly to 3.2%, but party is fielding three candidates this time.

TUV fielding six candidates but it does not include Stephen Cooper who was elected in 2019 but quit the party this year after an allegation of harassment. The party said during an investigation he apologised and then resigned.

He said he was “disappointed” the party did not back him. Last year he narrowly missed out on clinching a MLA seat in Strangford (12.7%).

Former DUP man Wesley Irvine who left the party over concerns the party had been slow to react to the NI Protocol. Associated of MLA Alex Easton who also left the party.

Other former DUP members turned independents are Bill Keery who suspended by the DUP following ‘an ill-judged comment following the death of Prince Phillip. Also Tom Smith who was deselected after he backed a motion to light the town hall in rainbow colours to mark LGBTQ week.

Four of the DEAs fall within the North Down constituency and three within Strangford. The Assembly votes in those constituencies suggest that the UUP and the Greens could be under pressure.


2019Comprises of the whole of the old Armagh City, Craigavon Borough, andBanbridge District Councils.DUP 21,840 (27.9%) 11 councillorsSF 17,154 (22.0%) 10 councillorsUUP 16,881 (21.6%) 10 councillorsSDLP 10,513 (13.5%) 6 councillorsAlliance 6,111 (7.8%) 3 councillorsInd 2,761 (3.5%) 1 councillorTUV 1,554 (2.0%)Aontu 1,052 (1.3%)

The DUP increased its share of the vote and remained the largest party although it lost two seats. Despite this being their best performance anywhere in terms of vote share, the UUP also lost two seats, reducing its total to 10.

Alliance was the big winner gaining three seats and representation on the council for the first time. Sinn Fein also added two new seats, bringing their tally to 10.

What to watch out for:Can unionism retain its dominance? With 11 DUP, 10 UUP and one unionist independent Paul Berry it holds 22 of the 40 seats. Despite losing five seats between them, unionists still hold a majority of five.

DUP increased its first preferences by 3.4% points but still lost two seats. Losses by Other Unionists (largely the TUV and PUP) robbed the DUP of vital transfers which had bolstered their seat numbers in the past.

Can Alliance continue to grow its representation from three councillors?

UUP also hoping to eat into DUP’s 27.9% share. Party performed best here in vote share compared to anywhere else in NI but lost two seats. Party hoping get one and maybe both seats back.

SF added two seats in 2019 – one from DUP and one from SDLP. It's hoping for at least one more seat in Banbridge.

SDLP veteran Seamus Doyle returning to the ballot paper. Former Banbridge council chairman. Now in his 70s he’s having another go.

Watch out for Jackie Coade who left Alliance and is now standing for the SDLP.

CAUSEWAY COAST & GLENS74 candidates – 40 seats

2019Area stretches from Sperrin Mountains to Rathlin Island down to Cushendall and represents an amalgamation of Limavady, Coleraine and Ballymoney Councils as well as the old Moyle District council.

DUP 15,371 (30.4%) 14 councillorsSF 11,221 (22.2%) 9 councillorsUUP 7,725 (15.3%) 7 councillorsSDLP 4,686 (9.3%) 6 councillorsAlliance 4,058 (8.0%) 2 councillorsTUV 2,177 (4.3%)Ind 2,039 (4.0%) 1 councillorPUP 1,576 (3.1%) 1 councillor

In 2019 the DUP consolidated its position as the largest party, increasing first preference votes by over 3% and picking up 3 extra seats to overall total of 14.

SF also made gains winning two more seats. TUV lost all three of its seats in the council. PUP retained its one seat and increased its vote by 3.1% - its best performance in NI. UUP lost three seats and was pushed into third place by SF. Alliance doubled its tally from one to two.

Losing a lot of longstanding councillors SDLP Helena Dallat-O’Driscoll and Stephanie Quigley UUP Norman Hillis and John Baird Alliance Chris McCaw and Independent Padraig McShane

What to watch out for:

Unionist dominated council saw growth in SF vote in 2019. Party is making it a family affair with SF press officer Niamh Archibald joins her father Ciaran. They are related to MLA Caoimhe Archibald.

Can SDLP hold onto its six councillors? Loss of two of its veterans make the outcome hard to predict. Also dropped 3% last time although it held all three seats it’s probably more vulnerable this time. Former councillor and MLA Michael Coyle standing on the ticket for SDLP.

On the unionist side the UUP’s loss of three councillors is mirrored by the DUP’s increase by three seats. DUP’s would hopeful of maintaining its dominance of the unionist vote.

TUV saw the greatest losses last time – 6% drop in support & lost all its councillors. Standing four candidates this time.

Adrian McQuillan fell out with the DUP and has sat as an Independent for the last year. He is standing again as an Independent. Can he retain the seat?

Alliance will be hopeful of gains here as it has steadily increased its share since 2014. It will be hopeful of gains via transfers from SDLP & UUP.

Russell Watton – best performing PUP councillor in NI with 3.1%. Can he maintain his support?

DERRY & STRABANE40 seats - 7 DEAs - 70 candidates

2019Poor election for SF, lost five seatsSDLP did better – won two seats but lost one. (Net gain of one).Story of last election was the emergence of smaller parties and independent.Alliance, Aontu and PBP. Independents have 12.6% vote share – the biggest anywhere in NI.

SF 17,062 (28.1%) 11 councillorsSDLP 15,458 (25.5%) 11 councillorsDUP 8,923 (14.7%) 7 councillorsUUP 4,126 (6.8%) 2 councillorsPBP 3,590 (5.9%) 2 councillorsAlliance 2,852 (4.7%) 2 councillorsAontu 1,032 (1.7%) 1 councillorInd 7,652 (12.6%) 4 councillors

SF’s performance will be a key focus. The party took a hammering in 2019 losing five seats but little went to the SDLP. SF has struggled in north west. In 2019 it lost its MP Elisha McCallion to Colum Eastwood and then underwent an overhaul of its operation.

SF’s two sitting MLAs Martina Anderson and Karen Mullan stepped down and were replaced by Padraig Delargy and Ciara Ferguson who were re-elected last year.

Changes in the party operation at local government level continue with two sitting councillors retiring including former MLA Michaela Boyle. Raft of new faces. To recover it must take two seats from SDLP, two from PBP and one from Aontu.

What to watch for:Who will win in the ongoing struggle between SF and the SDLP, especially in the Foyle DEAs?

PBP’s performance? In 2019 PBP’s vote went up by 6% but dropped by 3% in the Foyle Assembly elections last year. Maeve O’Neill replaced Eamonn McCann in Moor in 2021. Can she hold on?

Can Aontu’s Emmet Doyle (who replaced Anne McCloskey in 2019) keep his seat in Ballyarnett?

Ballyarnett will also be a focus for the battle between SDLP & SF where SDLP took a seat from SF in 2019.

Role of Independents – could take votes from both Dup and SF but pose a particular problem for SF.

Crucial for the SDLP to perform well. Stumbling in Derry would lead to questions about the party’s, and even its leader’s, future.

Who will replace Independent Sean Carr who’s retiring?

Unionism – Ryan McCready (UUP) and Graham Warke (Ind). Both were DUP councillors but defected. DUP trying to get the seats back – one of their candidates is Julie Middleton, wife of MLA and junior minister Gary Middleton, who’s standing in Faughan, Alliance won two seats in 2019 and is standing in all 7 DEAs.

FERMANAGH & OMAGH40 seats - 7 DEAS - 64 candidates

2019A simple amalgamation of the old Fermanagh & Omagh councils.

SF 19,111 (36.8%) 15 councillorsUUP 8,612 (16.6%) 9 councillorsDUP 8,277 (15.9%) 5 councillorsSDLP 5,475 (10.5%) 5 councillorsInd 5,151 (10.5%) 4 councillorsAlliance 2,035 (3.3%) 1 councillorTUV 1,072 (2.1%)Aontú 1,062 (2.0%)CCLA 720 (1.4%) 1 councillor

Last time saw losses for the main nationalist parties. SF lost two seats and SDLP lost both seats in Omagh and another in mid-Tyrone. Alliance picked up a seat in Omagh gaining representation on the council for the first time.

Best performance by Aontu in NI even though the party did not pick up a seat. Marked increase in Independents. Highest turnout in NI with 62.4% compared to overall NI total of 52.7%.

What to watch out for:Can SF make up for lost ground? Went into 2019 with 17 seats hoping to become the majority party of 21 on a 40 seat council. Instead it lost two seats to independent Paul McCluskey and Labour Alternative Donal O’Cofaigh – health focused campaigns. Party running 22 candidates in a much smaller field.

How will SDLP fare? Party has suffered from divisions and defections which cost the party three seats in Tyrone. Party fielding one candidate in each DEA. Hopeful of regaining a seat in Omagh. Lost it representation in Omagh in 2016 when GP Jo Deehan left with Joanne Donnelly. Deehan is running again as an independent. Aontu’s failure to field candidate should help the SDLP in Mid Tyrone.

Alliance is fielding its largest ever team. One candidate in every DEA. Party scored a breakthrough last time when Stephen Donnelly took a seat in Omagh.

Fermanagh & Omagh is the only council where UUP is the dominant unionist party. DUP and UUP fielding nine candidates each. TUV is fielding two candidates. Could their transfers be decisive in the DUP overtaking the UUP?

Role of independents. Health was a crucial factor in the last election.

Independent republican Eamon Keenan is effectively running a one-two independent campaign with Tina McDermott from the Save Our Acute Services campaign.

The campaign to retain acute services could also mean Lab Alt Donal O’Cofaigh keeping his seat.

LISBURN & CASTLEREAGH40 seats - 7 District Electoral areas - 65 candidates

DUP 18,455 (36.7%) 15 councillorsAlliance 11,883 (23.6%) 9 councillorsUUP 8,837 (17.6%) 11 councillorsSDLP 4,364 (8.7%) 2 councillorsSF 2,717 (5.4%) 2 councillorsTUV 1,167 (2.3%)Green 878 (1.7%) 1 councillorInd 878 (1.7%)

A unionist stronghold with unionism holding 26 seats out of 40 seats but in 2019 DUP suffered a setback when it lost five seats even though it only got 65 fewer votes.

It marked a 4% drop in vote share. UUP bucked the trend elsewhere by increasing its vote and picking up 3 seats.

Best performance for Alliance in all 11 council contests. It almost doubled its vote share from 12% to 23.6% gaining 2 seats. SF won here or the first time gaining two seats. TUV lost its only seat.

What to watch out for:Can DUP stop or reverse the downward trend? In 2021 Nathan Anderson quit DUP protesting the party did not do enough to stop abortion law, he’s not running again. Could this be a gain for the party?

Will Unionism return to the DUP fold over its Stormont boycott or will they defect to the UUP & Alliance who back a return to Stormont?

Or could the TUV regain the seat it lost last time from distrustful unionists? It is standing three candidates.

Can the UUP continue its slow and steady upward trend here?

Can Alliance increase its seat count? It’s running 14 candidates the most it has ever run here.

SDLP have three seats – two it won in 2019 and another from Simon Lee decision to jump ship to the party from the Greens.

Can they hold them? Former MLA Pat Catney is attempting to be elected in Lisburn North SF broke through here last time winning two seats.

Can they increase their seat tally?

MID & EAST ANTRIM40 seats - 7 DEAS - 60 candidates

In 2019 Alliance was the big winner in this unionist stronghold. The party increased its vote share to 15.8% from 9.4% - now holds seven seat, up by three. The party has been on the march in this area. Patricia O’Lynn was the surprise winner in the 2022 Assembly election at the DUP’s expense. Danny Donnelly took a second Alliance seat in east Antrim at UUP’s expense.

TUV also had its strongest performance with a slight increase in its percentage share and maintained five seats. UUP lost 3 seats but gained one from UKIP so net total of seven seats.

DUP is the largest party with nearly a third of the vote share (32%). It holds 15 seats, despite losing one.

DUP 14,976 (32.0%) 15 councillorsUUP 8,540 (18.2%) 7 councillorsAlliance 7,407 (15.8%) 7 councillorsTUV 7,126 (15.2%) 5 councillorsInd 3,862 (8.2%) 3 councillorsSF 2,996 (6.4%) 2 councillorsSDLP 848 (1.8%) 1 councillor

What to watch out for:Will the DUP Stormont boycott be rewarded or punished? Can the TUV make gains here – it’s standing 10 candidates, double its current tally?

Can Alliance increase its seat count? It’s standing 10 candidates – the largest number it’s stood here. It gained four seats last time from DUP, SF and UUP.

UUP and Alliance are neck and neck in seat tally with seven each, but UU’s havegreater vote share (18.2%) compared to Alliance (15.8%). How will the two perform?

Can UUP veteran and former MLA Roy Beggs make a comeback in Larne Lough DEA?

How will nationalism perform here? SF have two seats and SDLP have one.

MID ULSTER40 seats – 7 DEAs – 66 candidates

2019Includes all of Cookstown, Magherafelt and most of Dungannon old councils.SF 23,553 (39.8%) 17 councillorsDUP 13,700 (23.2%) 9 councillorsSDLP 8,512 (14.4%) 6 councillorsUUP 8,021 (13.6%) 6 councillorsInd 3,422 (5.8%) 2 councillorsTurnout: 58.97%

There was very little change in 2019. Five of the six DEAs produced no change from 2014. In Dungannon, all six incumbents were returned. SF lost a seat to an Independent but is still the largest party with 39.8% of the vote – its best performance in NI. DUP took a seat from the UUP taking their tally to 9.

What to watch out for:Nationalism expected to maintain its dominance.

How will the ‘drive for five’ affect the nationalist vote? Two sitting independent Barry Monteith is joined by Marian Vincent in Dungannon while Dan Kerr is joined by Teresa Quinn in Torrent (includes Michelle O’Neill’s hometown of Coalisland). Kevin McElvogue added to the mix in Clogher Valley.

Can SDLP’s Denise Johnston pick up a seat in Moyola where SF veteran Ian Milne topped the poll?

Aontu hopeful of retaining the seat held by high profile candidate Denise Mullan - she was SDLP but transferred to Aontu in 2019. Party fielding to ore candidates. TUV running in five DEAs. Party had a good show in the Assembly election.

Assembly candidate Glenn Moore took 7.4% or 3818 votes. He’s standing in Moyola.

NEWRY, MOURNE & DOWN40 seats - 7 DEAs - 80 candidates

Sprawling council area takes in the Newry, Mourne and Down district council as well as parts of Banbridge council.

2019SF pulled ahead of SDLP who lost 3 seats and dropped 7% of 1st preference votes.SF (+2 seats) SDLP (-3 seats).

UUP also pulled ahead of DUP taking a seat of them in Slieve Croob Alliance up by 5% but didn’t take any seats.

SF 25,327 (36.5%) 16 councillorsSDLP 15,975 (23.0%) 11 councillorsInd 8,661 (12.5%) 5 councillorsUUP 6,952 (10.0%) 4 councillorsDUP 5,897 (8.5%) 3 councillorsAlliance 5,162 (7.4%) 2 councillorsAontu 1,055 (1.5%)Green 310 (0.4%)

What to watch for:Can SF continue to pull ahead of the SDLP?A number of SDLP veterans are not contesting this time could that open the door for SF?

Alliance is running eight candidates. Cadogan Enright standing for Alliance was elected in 2019 as an independent. Helena Young attempting to become first Alliance councillor in 50 years. Harold McKee - former UUP - now standing for TUV. Former SF cllr Eamonn Mac ConMidhe standing as an independent.

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