The Alliance Party has secured significant victories in the count so far for the new Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.
In three out of the four seats being counted today, the party’s candidates have surged out in front of all others in terms of first-preference votes – in one case by an incredible margin.
By contrast in 2014, Alliance did not top a single one of the seven seats in the borough.
In the Antrim sea, incumbent Alliance councillor Neil Kelly romped home at around midday, winning 1,689 first-preference votes.
This is well over twice as many as the nearest candidate in the seat – the DUP’s John Smyth, who won 734.
In 2014, the seat had been won by the UUP’s Adrian Cochrane-Watson, with Alliance finishing fourth in the first-preference stakes (Mr Cochrane-Watson has polled only a few hundred votes this time around; he was standing as an independent for the 2019 vote, telling the News Letter that the UUP could “get stuffed”).
Elsewhere in the borough, the Glengormley Urgan seat was topped by Julian McGrath of the Alliance, winning 1,345 first-preference votes, compared with 1,099 for his nearest rival, the DUP’s Phillip Brett.
And in Macedon, the top-rated candidate in terms of first-preference votes was Alliance’s Billy Webb, coming in with 1,127 votes (with his nearest rival being the DUP’s Paul Hamill, with 1,043).
In addition, Julie Gilmour secured 749 first-preference votes in Threemilewater, meaning she too is likely to be elected once transfer votes are counted.
David Ford, the former Alliance leader, told the News Letter the result was “quite an achievement”.
It had become apparent even from the outset of counting that it would be a good day for Alliance, and he said: “It’s rare that I come to this building [the Valley Leisure Centre, where the count is always held] and am grinning from ear to ear at 10am.
“We knew the four were all doing very well.”
Elsewhere in the Province, even people who were little more than “paper candidates” were performing well for the party, he said.
Billy Webb, the first person elected to any seat in the borough in 2019, said it was a “massive boost”.
Asked if the Alliance’s stance on Brexit (strongly pro-Remain) was a factor, he said: “It may well be – but on the streets and at the doors I was fighting this election on local issues.”