Sinn Féin has become the largest party in Northern Ireland local government after a landslide victory in the council elections.
It defeated the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) and became the first nationalist party to hold the most seats in the council, dealing a political and psychological blow to unionism.
Sinn Féin made unprecedented gains in parts of County Down and County Antrim and almost doubled its vote from the 2019 local elections in Balmoral, Belfast’s wealthiest ward.
With 456 of the 462 seats comprising 11 councils declared on Saturday night, Sinn Féin had 143, down from 105, and the DUP remained on 122. The non-aligned Alliance had 65, a gain of 14, while the moderate Ulster Unionist party (UUP). ) and the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labor party (SDLP) fell to fourth and fifth place.
The share of first preference votes highlighted the dominance of Sinn Féin, which won 30.9% against 23.3% for the DUP, 13.3% for the Alliance, 10.9% for the UUP and 8.7% for the SDLP.
Nationalist parties won 19,000 more first preference votes than unionist parties, according to Nicholas Whyte, a psephologist at consultancy Apco Worldwide.
The election was also notable for Lilian Seenoi-Barr, an SDLP candidate in Derry, who became the first black person to be elected as a politician in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Féin has tapped into nationalist anger over a DUP boycott of power-sharing that prevented Sinn Féin’s deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill, from becoming first minister. O’Neill faced a presidential-style campaign that persuaded SDLP voters to support Sinn Féin, which had been a mouthpiece for the IRA during the Troubles.
“These election results are a positive endorsement of Sinn Féin’s message that workers, families and communities must be supported, and that the obstruction of a new single-party assembly must end now. ,” said O’Neill, who was mobbed by cheering supporters. .
The leader of the DUP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, has become a recruiting sergeant for the republicans, Suzanne Breen, a commentator, writes in the Belfast Telegraph. “The longer Michelle O’Neill is blocked from becoming first minister, the more voters will be driven into the arms of her party.”
Sinn Féin’s victory consolidates its success in last year’s assembly elections – when it overtook the DUP as the largest party – and presents unionism with another reminder of its deteriorating demographic and political position.
“For unionism, this is probably a ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ moment,” Edwin Poots, a former DUP leader, told the BBC.
He said the result shows the need for greater unity among unionists, who split their vote between the DUP, UUP and Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV). Analysts say the result raises deeper, more troubling questions for those who favor keeping Northern Ireland in the UK.
The DUP has emerged unscathed from a proxy referendum on its decision to paralyze the executive and the Stormont assembly to protest post-Brexit trade deals.
While it flocked to Sinn Féin nationalists, it also consolidated the DUP as the dominant force in unionism.
The moderate UUP and the hardline TUV were squeezed, allowing Donaldson to claim vindication for the DUP’s policy of claiming credit for the Windsor framework, which changed the original Northern Ireland protocol, and demanded further concessions before restoring the institutions of the Good Friday agreement. There is speculation the DUP will do so in the autumn.
The Alliance consolidated its position as the third largest party in Northern Ireland. Lewis Boyle, an 18-year-old A-level student who stood for the party on Antrim and Newtownabbey council, has become the youngest elected representative in Northern Ireland.
Colum Eastwood, the leader of the SDLP, said he would not resign, despite the party’s defeats. “If I thought the right course of action would be to resign, I would do it immediately,” he said.