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Those NI local elections – all change May 22, 2023

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

A day or so out and it’s clear that the Northern Ireland local elections provide yet another indication that whatever about the past the North is now in a very different dispensation from even a decade ago.

The primacy of Sinn Féin as the largest party representing Northern Ireland cannot be understated. The prospect of an SF First Minister and now the party becoming the largest party of local government point to massive, seismic change. Was the election last week an earthquake or a tsunami? Yes and no. No in so far as it was an extension of preexisting trends; yes in so far as those trends point to a very, very different future to the one that many envisaged.

Strange the manner in which some in the South appeared to believe it was best to ignore the results. Not sure that pulling the covers over heads is going to work here if we have a situation where SF is both the largest party in the Republic and the largest in the North. That has implications on how others perceive the island in terms of who is regarded as speaking (at least to a considerable degree) for the island and both parts. Of course, Northern Ireland is a divided polity, but if unionism spoke for that polity as its own and was regarded as doing so when it was the majority voice, then it is clear that others should they gain that sort of support will do so similarly, at least to some degree.

People will note that there are other strands, that Sinn Fein’s dominance isn’t an outright majority (that is greater than 50%) but similarly neither has unionism been hesitant to proclaim its sense of ownership. Yet look back at 2014 where Sinn Féin had a greater percentage of the vote than the DUP and the DUP/UUP and TUV had less than 50% of the vote.

The UUP’s Danny Kennedy argued that Sinn Féin ran too many candidates and in doing so didn’t give his party a chance. That is not the way electoral politics works, anywhere. And the point was made that unionists should be attempting to attract nationalists as against expecting Sinn Féin to shrink politically. In a BBC TV clip he actually having delivered this demand then complained that Alliance shouldn’t be saying what other parties do. Really, this level of analysis is bizarre and it tell us much about the attitudes with regard to the dynamics of politics in the polity.

But perhaps that’s due to the shock of the result. Vincent Kearney of RTÉ made the point that the SF result was a shock – ‘no one foresaw the extent of the SF surge – not even SF’.

I asked a senior party strategist and number cruncher shortly after the polls closed at 10pm on Thursday for his predicted number of seats.

“The feedback on the doorsteps has been very good and I think on a good day we could gain 20 to 25 seats,” he replied.

The actual gain since the last local government elections in 2019 was 39, taking the party to 144 seats across Northern Ireland’s 11 councils.

144 elected councillors from a total of 162 candidates.

It’s both pointless and arguably counterproductive to ascribe too much to a party but, in purely tactical and strategic terms, it does seem that SF is considerably more able than its rivals in other camps. 

Perhaps that too explains some of the following:

The DUP certainly did not see it coming.

Senior party sources had conceded in advance that they expected Sinn Féin to emerge as the largest party in local government based on its performance in the Assembly elections last May, when it emerged as the largest party at Stormont for the first time.

However, the facial expressions and body language of senior party members at the Belfast count centre yesterday suggested a sense of shock.

And of course Alliance had a good day.

As to the future. 

With the Ulster Unionist Party suffering badly, the Lagan Valley MP can say he is the undisputed leader of unionism and that he has the trust of the vast majority of the unionist electorate.

That could potentially result in him digging his heels in further and refusing to budge on his Stormont boycott.

However, the growing sense is that he is more likely to use this renewed mandate as a springboard to wring further concessions from the British government on the Windsor Framework to pave the way for a return to power-sharing, most likely in the autumn.

One has to wonder what further concessions there are from the British government. 

“It’s a question of when we go back and not if,” said a senior DUP source.

“The government knows what we need and is moving in that direction,” they added.

The British government last week signaled that it is committed to “providing exactly the protections that Mr Donaldson referred to.”

That’s understood to be a reference to new legislation to strengthen Northern Ireland’s position within the UK internal market.

This seems thin stuff, doesn’t it? And where does it leave the DUP given that in the past twenty four months the electoral map has changed so decisively, and continues to do so. 

Kearney argues that (and this is an odd echo of the Republic) Northern Ireland is now a three-party ‘state’. That the smaller parties, (and interestingly he includes the UUP and SDLP in this) are fitting to maintain any position; that the smallest parties are in real trouble (remarkable how many have lost representation and leaders); and that the DUP’s boycott has helped galvanise nationalist and republican voters. 

Difficult not to agree with an anonymous voice from unionism:

“Stability favours unionism,” said one seasoned DUP councillor.

“Instability undermines unionism and invigorates nationalism. The only way to get back to stability is to get back into Stormont and try to make this place work. If we don’t do that, in the long term we’re weakening the union,” they added.

Where is the will though? Where are the efforts to attract not just the ‘middle-ground’ but also nationalists? Where indeed are the appeals to stability from a party that seems to have made a fetish this past seven or eight years of going for the most disruptive and divisive options available at any given moment with no heed to the consequences and potential outcomes? 

Meantime this from Slugger is timely and provocative. 


1. Sarah - May 22, 2023

The beginning of the end of putrid Unionism. Never thought I’d see a United Ireland in my own lifetime, but beginning to reconsider that now.

Liked by 1 person

2. irishelectionliterature - May 22, 2023

The smaller parties got squeezed. PBP, CCLA, PUP, Greens and Aontú all lost seats. The number of Independents elected was also down.
I know there is a different dynamic but it certainly is a warning to the Left parties here that Sinn Féin can take anyone’s seat.

Liked by 1 person

3. Paul Culloty - May 22, 2023
WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2023

Thanks, it’s wordpress and their user interface – they use ‘blocks’ and it’s impossible to be certain the correct link is going in when pasted.

Liked by 1 person

4. Miguel62 - May 22, 2023

Good analysis by Slugger in that link. The big takeaway has to be that elections (in NI anyway) are won on the middle ground. SF has been slowly but surely tacking towards the centre while DUP are moving to the extremes. The trick is to do so slowly and incrementally while not splitting the party and alienating one’s own core supporters.

Liked by 1 person

5. banjoagbeanjoe - May 22, 2023

A few things.
I was on Slugger for the first time in ages during the count. It was excellent. The article you linked to is a good read too.
It seems pretty clear that the direction of travel is nationalist overall votes going up and unionist overall votes declining into the future.
On Danny Kennedy’s point. I was trying to make sense of it. He was saying, I think, that because SF won all the seats in his area, local unionists had nobody to represent them on the council. And this isn’t fair and is this what a UI will look like. (That’s my interpretation of what he was trying to say). Someone on Slugger pointed out that local unionists have representation on the council – their local democratically-elected councillors. It’s just that they’re all themuns. And presumably, many local PUL people can’t or won’t bring themselves to go to an SF councillor with their issues.

It’s a good mini-study of the challenges that will face the coming (not in my lifetime tm) UI.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2023

At a local level I wonder is he not over-egging the pudding though.

I know I can go to a councillor in the next ward/electoral area and they’ll assist me, one presumes it is the same there, if one was in Belfast and one wasn’t happy with SF and the solitary PBPer in Black Mountain ward one could go to the DUPers in Court.

It does seem a bit of an edge case. Not least because the opposite situation pertaining for CNR voters has been much much more widespread across NI. The 2019 results saw a raft of wards across Lisburn and Castlereagh, the Causeway Coast and so on where there was no CNR cllrs at all. 2023 saw some change but still a good number of wards with no CNR reps, so if he wasn’t complaining then difficult to take it too seriously now.

Liked by 1 person

6. banjoagbeanjoe - May 22, 2023

Couldn’t find What you want to say.

No ‘orthodox’ communist candidates in the NI locals AFAIK.
This sounds interestinghttps://www.buzz.ie/tv/reds-na-hireann-tg4-documentary-30031307

Liked by 1 person

banjoagbeanjoe - May 22, 2023
7. Gearóid Clár - May 22, 2023

There’s a great term in that Slugger piece, about how Sinn Féin have exuded “relentless positivity” in recent times. You see it up here in the statements of Michelle O’Neill, or on a more local level. They’re unshakable in that positivity. DUP intransigence around the assembly just causes them to speak optimistically about how Stormont will return, they acknowledge the severe issues with the NHS, or teachers’ pay etc. but confident they can turn it around. It’s constant – and not in some delusional “we can fix everything” way, just with an optimism that things can get better if people work towards it. At a very basic psychological level, this kind of demeanour being constantly pushed in the media in turn encourages people and helps them feel more positive.

Contrast that with the constant negativity, gloom and self-victimisation from the DUP and you can see why they’re planting that big flag square in the middle ground and capturing voters.

You had former leaders of the DUP and UUP speaking about a unionist merger at the weekend and it really highlights the myopic viewpoint in the two parties (broadly, I wouldn’t include Beattie in that assertion). They’re going to double down on a shrinking voter base rather than try to convince non-unionists to vote for unionist parties. It’s as illogical as Danny Kennedy’s utterly bizarre complaints.

Incidentally, I think Sinn Féin in the Dáil could learn from this “relentless positivity”. They tend to be constant gloom in charging the government – understandably – with their various shortcomings. Not that I think they shouldn’t hold the government to account, but I think they could go about it in a way that’s more about how they have the will and abilities to address it rather than just going in on negative attacks and soundbites. There could be a ceiling on support for that.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2023

I think that’s spot on. Firstly about the idea that doubling down on the unionist vote will somehow see them to safety. Just cannot work. But secondly on SF in the ROI needing to be a lot more positive.

Liked by 1 person

banjoagbeanjoe - May 22, 2023

Just on that “relentless positivity”. Michelle O’Neill attending the coronation of King Charles clearly didn’t bother nationalists much, if at all. Not enough to stop nationalists voting for SF for sure.
Shows a maturity and common sense and I suppose a long game view among nationalists. Whereas a DUPer making any even perfunctory nod to nationalism or nationalist sentiment would probably get hammered by their electorate.

Liked by 2 people

Wes Ferry - May 22, 2023

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - May 23, 2023



8. LOR - May 22, 2023

Collin Julieann McNally came 10th out of 13 candidates, 368 first preference votes
Sperrin Paul Gallagher came 5th out of 14 candidates, 1042 first preference votes – elected
Sperrin Raymond Barr came 7th out of 14 candidates, 985 votes – elected
The Moor Gary Donnelly, came first out of 9 candidates, 1868 first preference votes
Erne East Eamon Keenan came 6th out of 9 candidates, 560 first preference votes
Erne East Tina McDermott came 9th out of 9 candidates, 238 first preference votes
Dungannon Barry Monteith came 4th out of 12 candidates, 1180 first preference votes -elected
Dungannon Marian Vincent came 6th out of 12 candidates, 628 first preference votes
Torrent Dan Kerr came 3rd out of 10 candidates, 1395 first preference votes – elected
Torrent Teresa Quinn came 9th out of 10 candidates, 622 first preference votes
Clogher Valley Kevin McElvogue came 4th out of 8 candidates, 1361 first preference votes – elected
Black Mountain Dan Murphy, came 10th out of 13 candidates, 426 first preference votes
Court Michael Kelly came out 9th out of 14 candidates, 399 first preference votes
Black Mountain Ursula Meighan came 11th out of 13 candidates, 185 first preference votes
Botanic Paddy Lynn came 13th out of 14 candidates, 89 first preference votes
Castle Lily Kerr came last out of 10 candidates, 86 first preference votes
Collin Patrick Crossan came last out of 13 candidates, 83 first preference votes
Court Tony Walls came 13th out of 14 candidates, 85 first preference votes
Oldpark Fiona McCarthy came last out of 13 candidates, 46 first preference votes
Newry Nicola Grant came last out of 11 candidates, 104 first preference votes
Black Mountain Matt Collins came 8th out of 13 candidates, 1316 first preference votes – lost his seat
Botanic Sipho Sibanda came 11th out of 14 candidates, 308 first preference votes
Castle Barney Doherty came 9th out of 10 candidates, 250 first preference votes
Collin Michael Collins came 6th out of 13 candidates, 1193 first preference votes – elected
Court Cailín McCaffery came 7th out of 14 candidates, 408 first preference votes
Lisnasharragh Nick Cropper came last out of 11 candidates, 200 first preference votes
Oldpark Fiona Ferguson came 7th out of 13 candidates, 700 first preference votes – lost her seat
Ormiston Fiona Doran came last out of 13 candidates, 117 first preference votes
Coleraine Amy Louise Merron came last out of 11 candidates, 247 first preference votes
Ballyarnett Damien Doherty came 8th out of 9 candidates, 727 first preference votes
Derg Adam McGinley came 9th out of 10 candidates, 112 first preference votes
Faughan Damian Gallagher came 9th out of 10 candidates, 310 first preference votes
Foyleside Shaun Harkin came 3rd out of 8 candidates, 979first preference votes – elected
Sperrin Carol Gallagher came 13th out of 14 candidates, 226 first preference votes
The Moor Maeve O’Neill came 6th out of 9 candidates, 578 first preference votes – lost her seat
Waterside Davina Pulis came last out of 10 candidates, 388 first preference votes
Enniskillen Donal O’Cofaigh came 10th out of 11 candidates, 504 first preference votes – lost his seat
Dungannon Gerry Cullen came 11th out of 12 candidates, 268 votes
Botanic Neil Moore came 12th out of 14 candidates, 149 first preference votes
Omagh Amy Ferguson came last out of 10 candidates, 75 first preference votes

Liked by 5 people

9. LOR - May 22, 2023

In my previous post I forgot to add that Gary Donnelly was elected and also the following independent republican candidate:
Erne West Paul McGoldrick came 7th out of 8 candidates, 506 votes

Liked by 4 people

banjoagbeanjoe - May 22, 2023

Thanks LOR. Good to get that detail.

Liked by 1 person

banjoagbeanjoe - May 22, 2023

And just to add, I read someone on Slugger talking about an independent republican surge in Mid-Ulster. Not much of a surge as it turns out. Certainly compared with the massive SF vote and seat haul.

Liked by 2 people

WorldbyStorm - May 23, 2023

+1 thanks LOR. Very handy. Would it be okay to post that up as a post in itself?


LOR - May 24, 2023



WorldbyStorm - May 24, 2023

Thanks, LOR!


10. pangurban - May 23, 2023

did both factions of the WP vote getting juggernaut contest the elactions?

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - May 23, 2023

Open to correction but my understanding is just the business committee.

Liked by 1 person

banjoagbeanjoe - May 23, 2023

Correct AFAIK.

Liked by 1 person

alanmyler - May 24, 2023

Yes, was only the WP (Handshake / Business Committee) that stood candidates.


Aonrud ⚘ - May 24, 2023

If I recall correctly, they own the party name in the North (i.e. have their names on the official register etc.), so presumably that would make it difficult for the other WP to run without using another name or something.

It seems to the other way around in the South though.

Liked by 1 person

alanmyler - May 24, 2023

As I understand it that is indeed the situation in NI. I don’t know what the situation is in the ROI. Last I’d heard, anecdotally, the legal right to use the party name was being contested, but I don’t know the current status of that process.


Aonrud ⚘ - May 24, 2023

I was just going by the names on the last register of parties in January, but no idea if that’s being contested.

Liked by 2 people

11. roddy - May 24, 2023

roddy finally reporting from the coal face as he had been campaigning for weeks and spent the last few days catching up on the day job.Reports from all areas during the campaign were describing massive positivity towards the party and I would have predicted many gains. However I was nervous about the ability to hold the nearly impossible 6 out of 7 in W Belfast for example as I feared even minor slippage due to the Coronation would scupper that magnificent achievement. In fact the vote rose in all areas of W Belfast and working class areas throughout the North.We cantered to our usual 3 out of 5 in my DEA and increased the % significantly.The neighbouring DEA pushed the SF % to 66% and snatched 4 out of 5 seats.Seats were taken on the 1st count in unionist towns like Ballymena ,Antrim,Coleraine and Lisburn with the emergence of what was previously a hidden sector of the population.I put it down to the fact that when a working class woman from the Nationalist community ( a single mother at age 16) was elected to the top post in govt, she was being prevented from taking that post. Decades old folk memories from the civil rights days brought people out to proclaim “never again”. The figure of 144 seats was never envisaged in my wildest dreams.

Liked by 2 people

WorldbyStorm - May 24, 2023

Great report roddy and fair dues!


roddy - May 24, 2023

I only pretended to be bored by it all!


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