The election of the DUP’s Janet Gray sparked joyous celebrations on Friday night when it was announced she will represent the party on the new Lisburn and Castlereagh council.
The blind water-ski champion – who was contesting her first election – was warmly congratulated by party colleagues, including Edwin Poots, and was clearly delighted with her performance.
Some late drama was NI21 coming within a whisker of clinching their first-ever council seat.
Christina Dobson was still in contention as the 10th and final count of the Downshire East transfers was announced shortly before 10pm.
However, by 10.10pm the dream was over and Aaron McIntyre of Alliance was elected with a final count of 880 votes to Dobson’s 860.
She said afterwards: “Imagine what we could have done if all of this [internal turmoil] hadn’t happened.”
Veteran Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Dillon topped the poll in Downshire West for this 10th consecutive council election success. He dedicated his win to his late wife.
“Without her help, support and hard work, over the last 38 years, I wouldn’t be here today as a councillor.”
He added: “It is fantastic to represent the Ulster Unionist Party and, although I haven’t got the figures to hand yet, I understand that our percentage vote is up considerably.”
His party colleague Alexander Redpath was elected in the same Downshire West electoral area, having been co-opted on to Lisburn council in recent months.
Mr Redpath said: “I’m very grateful to the people of Northern Ireland for giving an excellent result to the Ulster Unionist party.
“At our recent party conference I promised my party colleagues that Ulster Unionism is alive and well in Lagan Valley, and we have certainly proved that.”
Of the 21 seats allocated by Friday night, the DUP had secured 11, the Ulster Unionists five, Alliance three with one each for the TUV and SDLP.
The remaining 19 seats will be decided at Saturday’s count.
DUP MLA Edwin Poots was with his son Luke to see him top the poll in Downshire East with 1,245 first preference votes. He said he was pleased with both his son’s and the party’s performance.
A third generation of the Poots family was also on hand with Luke’s grandfather and former Protest Unionist candidate for the old Stormont administration, Charles Poots, at the count.
DUP MLA Jonathan Craig said the results were an overall success but it wasn’t a perfect day.
“The results were bittersweet. I think we will end up with about 19 or 20 seats out of 40 on the new council.
“We will be the predominant force on the Lisburn and Castlereagh council, but it was a pity Lynda Spratt didn’t make it,” he said.
Lagan Valley NI21 constituency association chairman, and candidate for Lisburn North, Colin McCord, was scathing in his criticism of party leader Basil McCrea’s handling of the party’s election campaign.
“We feel we have been totally betrayed by the leadership. Some of the ‘celebrity’ candidates drafted in to boost the overall number of candidates standing weren’t even in the party.”
Mr McCord said his constituency association was planning to regroup immediately after the election, determined to emerge stronger in the near future.