Sinn Fein remains on course to become the largest party in councils in Northern Ireland as counting continues in the local government elections. Sinn Fein remains on course to become the largest party in councils in Northern Ireland as counting continues in the local government elections. Day one of counting ended with Sinn Féin on 99 elected councillors, the DUP on 85, Alliance on 40, Ulster Unionists on 36, SDLP on 21 and 18 others.
Three of the 11 council areas have completed their count - Lisburn and Castlereagh, Mid Ulster and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, where Sinn Fein has emerged as the largest party for the first time.
The DUP has retained its position as the largest party in Lisburn and Castlereagh.
The Alliance Party has made gains and could become the third largest party in local government. Veteran PUP councillor Billy Hutchinson became the second party leader to lose his seat in Belfast, following Green Party NI leader Mal O’Hara’s failure to get elected. The votes are being counted through the single transferable vote system, with 462 seats to be filled across 11 council areas.
The general pattern around voter turnout appeared to be up slightly in areas which would be regarded as predominantly nationalist/republican and down slightly in areas viewed as unionist majority.
It is the first electoral test for the parties since last year's Assembly elections and takes place against the backdrop of the Stormont stalemate, with the power-sharing institutions not operating as part of a DUP protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said her party’s success the local government elections was a message from the people that Stormont must return.
“In the course of the election a lot of things were discussed, all the local issues but, in truth, the big issue was that of a return of the executive, the need to have government, the need to have leadership, the need to work together, to make politics work for everybody," she said.
DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said if Sinn Fein emerges as the largest party in local government, unionism will have to “look at where it’s going”.
Speaking at the Lisburn and Castlereagh council count, he said: “We can’t go on with a situation where turnout in unionist areas is significantly lower than in nationalist areas, you can’t go on with a situation where the unionist vote is continually splitting and splintering."
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