Alliance Party leader Naomi Long
By Anthony Neeson
The Alliance Party enters the North’s multi-party talks this week on the back of a successful local government election where the party’s vote rose by five per cent.
The DUP and Sinn Féin remain the largest parties. However the shift towards the middle ground is the main talking point from the poll held on Thursday, May 2.
After the dust settled, the DUP were down eight seats from 2014, while Sinn Féin came back with the same amount of seats (105) from five years ago.
While the SDLP lost seats the party is delighted with its showing in Derry where it hopes to retake the Foyle Westminster seat which the party lost to Sinn Féin two years ago.
The big losers from the election were the Ulster Unionist Party. In Belfast City, Hall where the UUP were for years the largest party, the party now has only two councilors out of sixty.
Throughout Northern Ireland the Alliance Party saw its share of the vote rise from 6.7% to 11.5%.
Party leader Naomi Long said: “Crucially, we’ve broken outside the Greater Belfast area for the fire time in, I would say, 30 years.”
While Sinn Féin lost seats in the west of Northern Ireland it gained seats in the east.
The party is still the largest party in Belfast City Council with 18 seats (down one), with DUP 15 (up two), Alliance 10 (up two), SDLP six (down one), Greens four (up three), People Before Profit three (down one), UUP two (down five), and PUP two (down one).
In Belfast, John Finucane, the son of murdered human rights lawyer Pat Finance, won a seat for Sinn Féin.
Despite the party’s stance against same-sex marriage, the DUP saw its first openly gay candidate elected in Alison Bennington in Antrim and Newtownabbey.
In Derry, veteran politician Eamon McCann was elected to council for the first time.
In Fermanagh & Omagh District Council, former West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff returned to politics a year after resigning over posting a video which the families of the Kingsmill massacre claimed mocked the victims.
McElduff claimed the timing was coincidental and was meant as a joke.
Now the political parties have a quick turn around with the European election in just over two weeks’ time. With the fall in the UUP vote and the rise in Alliance, the UUP are on course to lose their EU seat.