Post election analysis

The seats

The ballots have been cast, the votes have been counted, the results are in and the spinning has begun.


Despite thoughts before the election that both the DUP and Sinn Féin would consolidate their support and increase their seats, the DUP managed to lose 8 seats and Sinn Féin saw no change to their total. The failure of the two big parties to make gains did not, however, translate into victories for the UUP and SDLP, with both of those parties having poor elections, losing 13 seats and 7 seats respectively. The big winners were Alliance, who almost doubled their number of council seats, increasing from 32 to 53, securing representation on 10 of the 11 councils. The TUV and UKIP had very poor elections, with UKIP losing all 3 seats they won in 2014 and TUV falling from 13 seats to 6, represented only on Mid and East Antrim and North Down and Ards Councils. It was a good day for the Greens, seeing their representation double from 4 to 8 seats, and for People Before Profit who went from 1 seat to 5.

The spin

While Sinn Féin welcomed the increased vote share for liberal parties in an attempt to deflect from their lack of progress at this election, the SDLP have tried to present the reduction in their vote, and in the number of councillors from 66 to 59, as a good result. Numbers can be spun and twisted in many different ways but to claim the loss of 7 seats as a good result is akin to the Month Python’s Black Knight claiming that losing all four limbs was nothing more than a flesh wound. At some point the SDLP will have to start winning more seats and increasing vote share or they will end up in the situation where there aren’t any more votes or seats to lose. The UUP’s messaging has been attempting to focus on the results across Northern Ireland, to turn attention away from the fact that the Collins family have as many seats on Belfast City Council as the former bastions of Official Unionism do, while the DUP is navigating a narrow tightrope of welcoming the election of their first openly gay Councillor without being seen to have shifted an inch on the issues of gay rights. Alliance, of course, don’t need to spin too much, but do need to remember that they entered this election as the fifth largest party, and remain so.

The outcomes

Antrim & Newtownabbey

A poor result for unionism which saw them drop six seats and resulted in the TUV losing their representation on the council. A good day for Sinn Féín as they picked up seats they had been chasing in Macedon and Glengormley, but Alliance were the real victors gathering seats across the council area and topping the poll in a number of DEAs.

Overall control: unionism (no change)

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon

Another poor result for unionism with them losing five seats. The SDLP held steady at six seats but this hides both some big wins (an extra seat in Craigavon and a new seat in Portadown) and some big losses (Cusher and Banbridge). Sinn Féin had a good election picking up two more seats, but it was another big win for Alliance who went from no seats in 2014 to winning 3 this time.

Overall control: unionism (no change)

Belfast

The most interesting of all the results sees Belfast retain its unique status of having no overall control, but don’t be deceived into thinking that significant change hasn’t, in fact, occurred here. The Ulster Unionists have imploded, seeing their representation fall to two councillors in East Belfast which is a dramatic contrast from their heyday when they truly dominated the council. In contrast to their performance elsewhere, the DUP managed to pick up two seats by winning the third seat in Court (from Jolene Bunting) and picking up the second seat in Balmoral. Sinn Féin dropped one seat overall (losing one in Titanic and one in Collin (to People Before Profit), before picking up a sixth seat in Black Mountain) and they will be disappointed not to have won a second seat in Castle, for the second election in a row. The SDLP lost one seat in Black Mountain but managed to win back the three seats that they lost when Pat Convery, Kate Mullan and Declan Boyle resigned, so the party will be relatively pleased that the wipeout predicted by some did not happen. The day, however, belonged to Alliance (who won two extra seats topping the polls across the city), People Before Profit, who held their seat in Black Mountain and picked up additional seats in Collin and a shock result in Oldpark, and the Greens who saw their representation increase from 1 to 4.

Overall control: none (no change)

Causeway Coast & Glens

A (rare) good result for the DUP who saw their representation increase and secured their place as the dominant unionist party here, as a result of a poor election for the TUV, who have been wiped out in the Council, and for the UUP. Sinn Féin had a good day, picking up an additional 2 seats, and the SDLP were able to hold all 6 of their seats. The PUP also managed to hold on to their seat in Coleraine, the only seat they have outside of Belfast.

Overall control: unionism (no change)

Derry & Strabane

A very good performance by the SDLP which will give them some momentum for the next Westminster election as they picked up an additional seat, but a really poor performance by Sinn Féin who lost seats across both Derry and Strabane. Sinn Féin’s losses were victories for People Before Profit’s Eamon McCann in The Moor and Aontú’s Dr. Anne McCloskey in Ballyarnet, winning her party’s first and only seat in this election. Alliance also had a major breakthrough winning not only one but two seats, making this another council where they now have representation.

Overall control: nationalism (no change)

Fermanagh & Omagh

In an area where Sinn Féín were hoping to take overall control they ended up losing two seats, including one in Enniskillen to the Cross Community Labour Alternative candidate Donal O’Cofaigh. The SDLP had a good election in the Fermanagh side of the constituency but lost three seats on the Omagh side, failing to win back seats from any of the three councillors who left the party in recent years. It was a particularly poor result for the SDLP in the Omagh DEA, where they won 2 seats in 2014, as they failed to win any this time out. Omagh was predicted by many as the race to watch and it proved to be the case, where Sinn Féin came up short on a third seat losing sitting councillor and group leader Marty McColgan; former SDLP councillor Dr. Jo Deehan retained her seat as an independent; Sorcha McAnespey and Joanne Donnelly failed to retain their seats running on independent platforms; and Alliance’s much touted candidate Stephen Donnelly lived up to expectations and won a seat.

Overall control: nationalism (no change)

Lisburn & Castlereagh

A rare good result for the Ulster Unionists who actually picked up two seats and an absolutely disastrous result for the DUP who lost five. Alliance’s #YellowWave continued here as they topped the poll across the council and picked up another two seats. This was one of two councils where Sinn Féin didn’t secure a seat in 2014 but this time out they managed to get two councillors elected, whilst the TUV were locked out after losing their sole seat in Castlereagh East. It was another poor result for the SDLP who lost one of their two seats in Castlereagh South and their seat in Killultagh, while nominally picking up a seat in Lisburn North as Johnny McCarthy retained the seat he originally won for NI21 back in 2014.

Overall control: unionism (no change)

Mid & East Antrim

Another superb performance for Alliance who went from 3 seats to 7 and are now tied with the Ulster Unionists as the second largest group on the council. Sinn Féin had high hopes of taking out the SDLP’s sole seat in Ballymena but their candidate Patrice Hardy came up short, ensuring that the SDLP held their only seat on the council. That strategy resulted in them losing sitting councillor Patrice Hardy, which will no doubt provide food for thought in their post-election de-brief. Despite being the largest group, the DUP’s bad day continued as they dropped a seat here, and the UUP lost 2.

Overall control: unionism (no change)

Mid Ulster

Very little change in Mid Ulster which is now the only council where Alliance don’t have a councillor. The DUP picked up a seat and the Ulster Unionists lost one, with the former DUP MLA Ian McCrea failing to win a seat for the party. The SDLP held steady, while Sinn Féin dropped one.

Overall control: nationalism (no change)

Newry, Mourne & Down

A disastrous performance for the SDLP, in what was once a party stronghold, as they lost seats in The Mournes, Slieve Gullion, Crotlieve, and outgoing council chairman Mark Murnin losing out to his running mate in Slieve Croob. Sinn Féin picked 2 up, consolidating the gains they made in South Down in the Assembly and Westminster elections in 2017. On the unionist side, the DUP dropped 1 and the UUP picked 1 up, so very little change there.

Overall control: nationalism (no change)

North Down & Ards

A poor performance for the DUP in one of their strongest councils with Alliance being the main beneficiary, finishing only four seats behind the DUP this time out, as opposed to the 10 seat difference back in 2014. The election of Independent Councillor Tom Smith, in Bangor East and Donaghadee, was a blow for the DUP, given that he resigned from the party late last year over his support for a proposal to light up Ards Town Hall in the rainbow colours for Pride celebrations. No change for the SDLP or Sinn Féin as Joe Boyle continues to be the sole nationalist voice on this Council. Sinn Féin may well be targeting that seat even more next time around, as this is the only Council on which they have no representation at present.

Overall control: unionism (no change)