Last night the scramble for council seats seemed to be a close-run race between the Ulster Unionists and the DUP in the new Antrim and Newtownabbey superauthority.
The councils are soon to be merged together under the one umbrella, and are at the moment dominated by a strong DUP, which enjoys 17 seats across the two, as opposed to the Ulster Unionists’ 10.
Although the counting is little more than half over, the signs are that the gap is narrowing.
The DUP have snapped up nine seats against seven for the UUP – and some see a noticeable ‘Jim Allister effect’ making its mark on the unionist vote too
The TUV – which previously had zero seats in the area – polled quite strongly last night, although has ended up with just one councillor so far.
Looking closely at how the vote splits down shows that the TUV is giving the main parties a genuine run for their money in some areas, with its winning Macedon candidate David Hollis gaining more first-preference votes than any of the other eight unionist candidates in his district, with the sole exception of the DUP’s Billy De Courcy.
It had been in the running to secure a second seat in the tightly-contested Threemilewater district.
John Scott, UUP group leader on Newtownabbey councillor, said the TUV had not stood in the area before, and may even grow their seats by another three today.
Asked what was behind it, he said: “It’s just Jim Allister. That’s what I’d attribute it to.”
Overall, he said: “Our vote has increased, and I hope by the end of tomorrow our councillors will have increased as well”. He added he was “very confident” this would happen.
Among those being elected was Ben Kelso, who managed Mike Nesbitt’s PR campaign for leadership of the party.
The Alliance Party’s vote held up reasonably well, and they won three candidates overall, with Billy Webb, party president, polling second only to the DUP’s Billy De Courcy in his Macedon district.
One party which has not so far picked up a seat is the PUP, which may have been expected to improve its showing in an area that contains some strong loyalist working-class neighbourhoods, at a time when antipathy to the two main unionist parties is running high.
Darren Logan, who stood unsuccessfully for the party, said he had hoped for better, but that “those who maybe would be crying the loudest wouldn’t be going to the ballot box”.