Belfast’s first citizen topped the poll in the Balmoral district of south Belfast yesterday, as the first results emerged from the city’s ongoing council election count.
Mairtin O’Muilleoir received 1,525 votes – just one more than SDLP candidate Claire Hanna, both far ahead of their pro-UK rivals.
In fact, the way the polls stood generally late last night may make worrying reading for unionists.
As of 10pm, Sinn Fein were enjoying a strong result in the city, with seven of the 15 councillors confirmed so far belonging to the party (though this is mainly because of the good progress in counting the votes for Black Mountain, a strongly republican area.)
The SDLP held three seats, and one each for Alliance and the People Before Profit Alliance.
Unionists held only three – two from the DUP, plus Billy Hutchinson of the PUP, who topped the poll in his ward of Court.
One of the interesting statistics so far was just how well Gerry Carroll, the People Before Profit candidate, performed in his district of Black Mountain, earning a result that was virtually level with Sinn Fein candidates in what is a powerful stronghold of the republican party.
However, the one to watch for many was NI21.
Following the turmoil of recent days, many will have eagerly waited to see if the party would still perform well. It did not.
In the Balmoral district, Tina McKenzie, the erstwhile chairwoman of the party and one of its most visible faces, received 256 votes.
Standing alongside her was Barbara Neeson, who received a mere 74, the same as the NI Conservatives, and only four votes ahead of independent Gerard Collins.
In Lisnasharragh, the party’s two candidates combined received 477 votes – less than that of the district’s sole Green contender.
The Alliance Party’s Euro contender Anna Lo said she was heartened by the very strong early performance in Lisnasharragh district (located in the city’s Protestant south-east, taking in the Cregagh and Ravenhill areas) where Michael Long sailed through as the top candidate.
Perhaps the real test of how the flag protests have affected the party’s standing will come today, when the Ormiston and Titanic districts in the east of the city are counted.
But while a great many of the would-be councillors were last night left in suspense as they waited for counting to resume, for many yesterday’s results gave them a chance to enjoy a moment of celebration, reflect, and then get ready to carry on with the job.
“Balmoral is a very contested constituency,” said a buoyant Claire Hanna after her win. “I am pleased to be elected. I wish overall the vote were a little higher, but there’ll be some interesting numbers for the nerds among us to crunch tonight. I’ve a number of ongoing issues around flooding, and traffic management, and the other kind of less glamorous day-to-day bits of a councillor’s work caseload that probably don’t make it into print. ”