Sinn Fein has suffered a testing time in Newry Mourne and Down, falling short of its hoped for 18 seats.
The party’s MP for Newry and Armagh, Conor Murphy, told the News Letter: “Well we weren’t predicting any number of seats in the council but what we did was put forward 18 candidates.”
He added: “We are quite happy we have 14 possibly 15 out of those 18 candidates. That is a good return on any day.
“We will certainly be either the joint largest party or if it goes our way, the largest party in Newry Mourne and Down council.”
The SDLP is understood to be pleased at the prospect of equalling Sinn Fein’s seats, with many observers having tipped the republicans to be easily the largest party on the new council.
A total of 118,997 voted in the new council area, which equalled a low 52.1pc turnout, disappointing many observers.
In Downpatrick area each party retained its share of the five seats except for Sinn Fein, losing one. The big story was veteran republican Eamon McConvey - a high profile personality - losing his seat. He was the longest serving member of Sinn Fein on Down District Council. New Sinn Fein face Naomi Bailie, in her late twenties, saw her extensive canvassing pay off with election on the fourth count, replacing another candidate from her party.
In Rowallane area the big shock was Alliance taking a surprise seat for the first time since the early 1970s, with sitting independent Mickey Coogan (ex-Sinn Fein) and sitting UUP councillor Walter Lyons losing their positions.
Coogan was out early with only 149 first preference votes. In stage five the UUP’s Lyons was leading with 898, Sinn Fein new face Eddie Hughes with 692 and Patrick Brown of the Alliance Party surprising everyone with 734.
But the elimination of the Sinn Fein candidate saw an unprecedented transfer of republican votes to Alliance, ousting the shocked UUP candidate 992 to 913 at the sixth stage.
All but one of the seven sitting councillors who stood in Slieve Gullion area retained their seats, with Sinn Fein losing out to the SDLP. Sinn Fein’s Daire Hughes, one of a number of people recently co-opted in, lost out at the seventh count to SDLP new face Kate Loughran.
Weak vote management was blamed for republicans losing the seat, with Crossmaglen Sinn Fein councillor Terry Hearty taking a massive 2135 first preference votes which could have been more evenly distributed, his colleague Hughes only taking 899 at the first count.
The UUP’s David Taylor won his seat back at the third count, the only unionist in the area.
In the Mournes all sitting councillors or their replacements were returned.
Sitting UKIP councillor Henry Reilly topped the poll with 1964 first preference votes, increasing his personal poll since the last election on the same ticket.
His success was doubtless due to being a well established figure with a high profile, raised further by his standing for the Euro election at the same time.
Sinn Fein and the SDLP took two seats each but Sinn Fein polled more strongly, returning two candidates on first preference votes, while the second SDLP candidate was returned at stage six.
For further details of the Newry Mourne Down election results see Monday’s News Letter.