Alliance buoyant as Sinn Féin appears to falter
SINN Féin will be hoping it can bounce back today as counting for the local government elections continues, having suffered setbacks in Derry and Belfast.
While there has been no significant drop in the party's overall vote and there is strong likelihood that Barry McElduff will return to elected politics in Omagh and Fermanagh, its rivals made notable advances.
Former Sinn Féin mayor of Derry and Strabane Maoliósa McHugh failed to defend his seat, while the party lost its sole representative in east Belfast.
In contrast the SDLP, People Before Profit, and the fledgling anti-abortion Aontú were on course to make gains.
Turnout across Northern Ireland varied greatly but appeared to be in and around the 50 per cent mark.
In Derry in particular, nationalism's largest party appeared to have faltered and while Sinn Féin's vote management strategy will likely ensure it picks up seats as counting concludes today, its electoral performance so far could not be characterised as a major success.
By contrast, Alliance emerged from early counting buoyant, taking three seats in the Ormiston district electoral area (DEA) of east Belfast, with Ross McMullan topping the poll on 2,622 first preferences. Naomi Long's party is also optimistic of taking its first seats west of the Bann with Stephen Donnelly in Fermanagh and Omagh, and Rachel Ferguson in Derry and Strabane.
It was in Ormiston that Ulster Unionists Jim Rodgers and Peter Johnston led a controversial leaflet campaign targetting Alliance. It appeared to have backfired, leaving only Mr Rodgers elected.
It appeared to be a poor performance all round for Robin Swann's party, which while picking up at least three dozen seats yesterday is expected to be down on its 2014 performance.
The DUP suffered a loss in Titanic where Lee Reynolds failed to get elected, however, the media focus was in Newtownabbey and Antrim where Alison Bennington became the party's first openly gay candidate to be elected.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the party's vote had increased.
"Certainly here in Antrim and Newtownabbey, across all of the DEAs, our vote has gone up and we have again further consolidated our position as the party of unionism, I think that is very, very clear both here, in greater Belfast and west of the Bann, we have had some really good results, we have had a very, very good day," he said.
On Ms Bennington success, the North Belfast MP said: "Alison will be an excellent addition to our team, she is a very hard worker.
"She's been a member of our party in the South Antrim association for many years and we are delighted now she is a councillor."
The DUP also saw the son of murdered prison officer David Black elected to Mid Ulster Council.
Kyle Black, whose 52-year-old father David was killed following a motorway drive-by shooting on the M1 in Co Armagh in November, said he was "over the moon and ecstatic" to be elected.
The SDLP appeared happy with the provisional outcome of counting, with its candidate Gavin Sharvin topping the poll in the Downpatrick area of Newry, Mourne and Down and community activist Paul McCusker doing likewise in the Oldpark area of Belfast.
In Derry and Strabane, Mary Durkan, sister of MLA Mark H Durkan, topped the poll as she contested her first election.
The Greens performed particularly well in Belfast, with Áine Groogan coming first in the Botanic area and Anthony Flynn taking a second seat in Ormiston.
"A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this," Ms Groogan said of her victory.
"We dared to dream – we are overwhelmed by it all."