The implosion in the Alliance Party’s vote in the capital city which some had predicted simply did not materialise, but the Ulster Unionists stormed back in Belfast.
Some unionists had warned during the flag protests last year that the Alliance’s vote to restrict the flying of the Union Flag from Belfast City Hall would be punished at the polls.
As voting continued on Saturday night, Alliance, which in the last council had six councillors, had five councillors elected and the party’s first preference vote slipped just slightly — down from 12.6 per cent in 2011 to 11.5 per cent.
However, the Alliance vote in the east of the city, where the party’s group leader on the council, Maire Hendron, lost her seat, was down enough to allow the DUP to argue that the results indicated that East Belfast Alliance MP Naomi Long will be in trouble at next year’s Westminster election.
DUP leader Peter Robinson said that Mrs Long was “on notice” that her seat was likely to change hands, pointing to the
However, Alliance members pointed to the different boundaries between Westminster and local government areas and to the plethora of candidates in this race, which makes it more difficult to calculate how voters would go in a two-horse race.
The likely DUP candidate in that election, Gavin Robinson, said that “there are 50 weeks left for East Belfast to make change and change for the better”.
However, in what seemed a nod to the fact that the DUP’s vote across the Province has fallen, Mr Robinson said: “We’re not dismissive of the messages we hear.”
There were several prominent councillors who lost out on seats in the new council.
DUP group leader and party strategist Lee Reynolds lost out on a seat in north Belfast, something which party leader Peter Robinson could be partly explained by his name being alphabetically so far down the ballot paper.
Former SDLP Lord Mayor Pat McCarthy also lost out on re-election after polling behind running-mate Declan Boyle in Botanic.
Former Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Niall O’Donnghaile at one time looked like he might lose his seat in the Titanic area but held on, at the expense of Alliance’s Maire Hendron.
The big winners on the unionist side were the UUP, PUP and TUV, who each took seats as some voters switched from the DUP or Alliance.
The UUP, which in 2011 was decimated in the capital it once ruled, doubled its three seats to six. One of those went to former Finance Minister Sammy Wilson’s one-time ministerial adviser, Graham Craig, while another went to Jeff Dudgeon, the man whose European court challenge led to homosexuality being decriminalised in Northern Ireland.
The PUP, which has similarly been through a long period of decline, also saw regrowth in its vote. Leader Billy Hutchinson retained his north Belfast seat, as did John Kyle in the east of the city. But an increased party vote saw Julie-Anne Corr in with a real chance of taking a seat in the Oldpark area.
And the TUV made a breakthrough in the capital, seeing 22-year-old Jolene Bunting — who told the News Letter that she had only joined the party in recent months after being impressed by Jim Allister — elected in north Belfast.
In Collin, Sinn Fein maintained its grip, seeing returning five of its candidates in the six-seat area.
One of those elected, Stephen Magennis said: “This isn’t just about our Collin area; this is about our all-Ireland project.”
But although Sinn Fein took five of the seven seats in Black Mountain, it could not stop Gerry Carroll making a historic breakthrough for the ant-capitalist People Before Profit Party.
Both Claire Bailey in Botanic and Ross Brown in Ormiston polled strongly for the Green Party. The former narrowly failed to get in, while the latter was one of several candidates in Ormiston who may have to wait until Monday to see if they are elected, as the count looks set to drag on into a third day.