Northern Ireland

Political parties rated out of 10 for their election performance

Sinn Féin bounced back from a poor performance in 2019 and recent bad results in the Republic

Sinn Féin MP Pat Cullen celebrates with Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle Gildernew after her election in Fermanagh South Tyrone. PICTURE: NIALL CARSON/PA (Niall Carson/Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Alliance – It was an election of mixed fortunes for Alliance, with an notable victory in Lagan Valley for Sorcha Eastwood but defeat for deputy leader Stephen Farry in North Down, alongside the failure yet again of Naomi Long to retake East Belfast at the fourth time of asking. On top of the real and symbolic setbacks, the party will be most concerned by a 1.8 percentage point drop in its overall vote share.

Never has Naomi Long’s party had a greater profile and apparent sense of momentum yet the figures from Thursday confirm recent polling which shows the so-called Alliance surge is faltering. There’ll be particular frustration in East Antrim, where the DUP’s vote share fell by 13 percentage points yet support for Alliance candidate and sitting MLA Danny Donnelly remained stagnant in a seat that surely must be regarded as a target.

There was also a halving of the party’s vote in South Down and no notable lift in Strangford where Alliance believed it could make inroads.

New Alliance MP for Lagan Valley Sorcha Eastwood
Alliance MP Sorcha Eastwood. PICTURE: OLIVER MCVEIGH/PA

Rating: 5/10

DUP – It’s difficult to imagine a greater catastrophe for the DUP, losing three of its eight seats, while support dropped by almost one-third across 18 constituencies compared to 2019. The sole saving grace for a party wracked by years of internal division will be leader Gavin Robinson’s successful defence of his East Belfast seat. Elsewhere, however, it was political carnage, with Ian Paisley’s defeat in North Antrim typifying the once-dominant party’s steady reversal in fortunes.

Those MPs who did retain their seats did so with significantly reduced majorities. Gregory Campbell held on by his fingernails is East Derry, while Sammy Wilson’s cushion of near 7,000 in East Antrim votes dropped to just over 1300.

Expect much talk of reallignment and unionist unity in the coming months but if past examples are anything to go by, personality clashes and petty squabbles will thwart any progress.

DUP leader Gavin Robinson gives a speech after retaining his seat in the East Belfast constituency
DUP leader Gavin Robinson. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA

Rating: 1/10

SDLP – On paper at least, the SDLP’s performance looks respectable. Colum Eastwood’s party went into the general election having suffered setbacks in both the 2022 Stormont poll and last year’s local government elections, so to emerge with its two seats in tact should be regarded as satisfactory. However, as expected,the leader’s 17,000-plus majority in Foyle was reduced to little more than 4,000 votes, ensuring Sinn Féin will be confident of taking the seat next time around. Claire Hanna’s significant majority in South Belfast and Mid Down held up better, demonstrating the value of strong candidate with broad appeal.

Elsewhere, the results were pretty dismal, with the party’s overall vote share slipping by almost four percentage points to 11.1%. The outcome in South Down, where Colin McGrath’s prospects had been talked up in recent weeks, was especially poor, with his Sinn Féin rival Chris Hazzard augmenting his winning majority by more than 350%, making chances of ever regaining the seat that was once an SDLP stronghold remote.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna celebrates victory. PICTURE: KELVIN BOYES/PRESS EYE

Rating: 4/10

Sinn Féin – Having suffered a disappointing election last month in the Republic there was potential for Sinn Féin to perform similarly poorly north of the border. However, running what was widely characterised as a low key campaign, the party defied expectations and added almost 30,000 votes to its 2019 tally across all constituencies. There were numerous standout performances, arguably the best being in East Derry, where despite not winning the seat Kathleen McGurk came within 179 votes of DUP veteran Gregory Campbell. Plaudits must also go to Pat Cullen, who put clear blue water between herself and the unionist challenge in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, and to Chris Hazzard in South Down, who emerged with a similarly comfortable cushion.

Only in North Belfast, an important gain five years ago that masked an otherwise poor performance, was there a notable drop in support yet an increased majority due to the faltering DUP. On the basis of Thursday’s results, Sinn Féin will be relishing the next Westminster election and what it will regard as a real opportunity to return nine MPs.

Sinn Fein’s Daire Hughes after winning the Newry & Armagh constituency
Sinn Fein’s Daire Hughes after winning the Newry & Armagh constituency. PICTURE: OLIVER MCVEIGH/PA

Rating: 9/10

Ulster Unionist Party – Apart from what was close to a humiliation for the over-confident Col Tim Collins in North Down, the UUP fared reasonably well and will be delighted that former leader Robin Swann’s bid to unseat Paul Girvan in South Antrim was such an unbridled success. A Westminster presence should help stabilise a party that appears to be in terminal flux, while providing a platform to highlight its larger rival’s ongoing turmoil.

There was disappointment in Fermanagh-South Tyrone and Upper Bann, where vote share dropped but encouraging performances from deputy leader Robbie Butler in Lagan Valley and John Stewart in East Antrim contributing to a 0.5 percentage point increase in overall vote share.

Robin Swann arrives at Meadowbank Sports Arena, Magherafelt
Newly-elected UUP MP Robin Swann. PICTURE: NIALL CARSON/PA

Rating: 7/10

Others – The performance of the TUV’s Jim Allister, breaking more than 50 years of Paisley dynasty in North Antrim was undoubtedly the highlight for the smaller parties. The party’s overall vote share grew by 6.2% though elsewhere, its ‘spoiler’ tactic was largely ineffective with the possible exception of Lorna Smyth polling more than 2,000 votes in Lagan Valley where she can take some credit for helping Sorcha Eastwood take the seat off the ‘protocol implementing’ DUP.

The Greens will be encouraged by a modest 0.9 percentage point increase in vote share, while People Before Profit effectively held its ground. Aontú and the NI Conservatives both lost ground from a low base.