The dominance of unionists on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has been eroded.
The university-run ARK election archive (www.ark.ac.uk) shows the last time there was a council election, in 2014, it yeilded the following split: 15 DUP, 12 UUP, four Alliance, four SDLP, three Sinn Fein, and two TUV.
Collected together, this spelled 29 unionists, seven nationalists, and four others.
The split now stands at: 14 DUP, nine UUP, seven Alliance, five Sinn Fein, four SDLP, and one independent – making the unionist-nationalist party balance 23 unionist, nine nationalist, seven Alliance and one independent.
Paul Girvan, DUP MP for South Antrim, told the News Letter the surge to Alliance was “alarming”, and said it “looks like some of the unionist votes have haemmorhaged to Alliance, and we need to see why”. He said this was principally a loss of the “soft unionist” vote, and that the DUP’s vote had kept “fairly solid in many of the areas”.
Ex-Alliance leader David Ford said when he arrived at the count headquarters in the Valley Leisure Centre early on Friday, it was already clear something had shifted.
“It’s rare that I come to this building and am grinning from ear to ear at 10am,” he said.
In the end, his party not only increased its seats, but topped the poll in terms of first-preference votes in four of the seven districts.
The stand-out victor was Neil Kelly, who said he was “a bit overwhelmed” by his performance in Antrim district, adding: “It’s the first time an Alliance councillor had topped the poll in over 40-odd years.”
Naomi Long dubbed the result in the borough “incredible”. She said Alliance always hears voters saying they want “more integration”.
“And then it comes to polling day, and people get in the booth and feel afraid of what may happen if they change their vote. I think people have reached a point in this election where they feel it couldn’t get any worse,” she said.
Among the other headline results emerging from the count at the Valley Leisure Centre was the election of the DUP’s first openly-gay politician Alison Bennington, and the re-election of the DUP’s Thomas Hogg by a far greater margin.
In 2014 councillor Hogg won 581 first-preference votes (and went on to become borough mayor). This time, he increased his number of first-preference votes by a whopping 72%.
This came despite him being handed a five month suspension from the council in February, following a conviction for drink-driving in 2018 (which also saw him banned from driving for a year).
In addition, first-time candidate Michael Stewart (who runs the Love Ballyclare Facebook page) came from nowhere to virtually top the Ballyclare district, and ex-UUP MP Danny Kinahan returns to the political fray with a seat in Ballyclare too.
In terms of turnout, DUP group leader Phillip Brett initially predicted a collapse, estimating it could be as low as 30-40% in the borough due to voter fatigue at the number of recent polls, and the fact it was a council-only vote (instead of co-inciding with Assembly or Euro elections).
In the event, turnout was fairly strong ranging across the districts from 42% to 53%, with four of the seven districts cracking the 50% mark (the council-wide turnout in 2014 was about 47%).
THE FULL RESULT (newly-elected councillors marked with ELECT)
Thomas Burns (SDLP) ELECT 1,125
Anne-Marie Logue (Sinn Fein) ELECT 1,095
Matthew Magill (DUP) ELECT 1,164
Ben Mallon (DUP) 481
Vikki McAuley (Alliance) ELECT 1,221
Paul Michael (UUP) ELECT 893
Mervyn Rea (UUP) 568
Cathy Rooney (Sinn Fein) 505
Richard William Cairns (TUV) 347
Adrian Cochrane-Watson (Ind) 359
Paul Dunlop (DUP) ELECT 603
Neil Kelly (Alliance) ELECT 1,689
Roisin Lynch (SDLP) ELECT 723
Gerard Magee (Sinn Fein) 583
Karl McMeekin (DUP) 363
Jim Montgomery (UUP) ELECT 416
John Smyth (DUP) ELECT 734
Leah Smyth (UUP) ELECT 615
Jeannie Archibald (DUP) ELECT 739
David Arthurs (Ind) 457
Gary English (Alliance) 775
Mandy Girvan ELECT (DUP) 861
Danny Kinahan (UUP) ELECT 1,253
Vera McWilliam (UUP) ELECT 707
Austin Orr (DUP) 443
Norrie Ramsay (UUP) 341
Michael Stewart (Ind) ELECT 1,182
Linda Clarke (DUP) ELECT 965
Henry Cushinan (Sinn Fein) ELECT 1,064
Glenn Finlay (Alliance) ELECT 989
Jordan Greer (DUP) 907
Andrew Maguire (Sinn Fein) 552
Roderick Swann (UUP) ELECT 711
Gareth Thomas (UUP) 424
Ryan Wilson (SDLP) ELECT 902
Alison Bennington (DUP) ELECT 856
Phillip Brett (DUP) ELECT 1,099
Samantha Burns (DUP) 373
Mark Cosgrove (UUP) ELECT 891
Michael Goodman (Sinn Fein) ELECT 904
Rosie Kinnear (Sinn Fein) ELECT 801
Michael Maguire (UUP) 337
Noreen McClelland (SDLP) ELECT 992
Julian McGrath (Alliance) ELECT 1,345
Paul Veronica (Green Party) 341
Robert Foster (UUP) ELECT 956
Paul Hamill (DUP) ELECT 1,043
Robert Hill (UKIP) 154
Thomas Hogg (DUP) ELECT 999
David Hollis (TUV) 223
Dean McCullough (DUP) ELECT 321
Taylor McGrann (Sinn Fein) ELECT 765
Victor Robinson (DUP) 327
Stafford Ward (Ind) 343
Billy Webb (Alliance) ELECT 1,127
THREE MILE WATER
Fraser Agnew (UUP) ELECT 1,100
Norman Jonathan Boyd (TUV) 234
Tom Campbell (Alliance) ELECT 1,075
Mark Cooper (DUP) ELECT 1,230
Sam Flanagan (DUP) ELECT 489
Julie Gilmour (Alliance) ELECT 749
Gary Grattan (Ind) 223
Stephen McCarthy (UUP) 514
Stephen Ross (DUP) ELECT 1,103
Raymond Stewart (UKIP) 319