Democratic Unionist Party’s first openly gay candidate elected

The Democratic Unionist Party’s first openly gay candidate has been elected in Northern Ireland.

Alison Bennington was propelled onto Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council to represent the pro-union and Christian party and praised her supporters’ “good, hard work and good teamwork”.

The DUP’s founder, the late Rev Ian Paisley once led a campaign to, in his words, Save Ulster from Sodomy and prevent the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Sidelined former DUP health minister Jim Wells has said his former leader would be “aghast”, but her victory was greeted by cheers and hugs from her supporters at a leisure centre near Belfast.

The DUP is staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage and has thwarted recent efforts to legalise it.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where it is banned, despite five attempts by the devolved administration to introduce it and calls on Westminster to bypass Stormont’s quarrelling politicians.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said Miss Bennington winning a seat and the party’s policy on same-sex marriage were two separate issues.

Deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: “Our party is open to everybody who subscribes to the aims and objectives of our parties, wants to ensure the union is defended and delivers all our policies.”

Lyra McKee funeral
Lyra McKee funeral

The contest was dominated by early gains in the greater Belfast area for the centralist Alliance Party and Green Party, solid performances from Sinn Fein and the DUP and a slump in support for the Ulster Unionists.

A fresh bid to restore Stormont’s moribund powersharing institutions is to begin next week following the shooting dead of journalist Lyra McKee, 29, by dissident republicans in Londonderry in April.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “I think people reached a point in this election where they thought it cannot get any worse, if I change my vote how much worse could it be and they have decided to give it a go.”

The son of a prison officer shot dead by dissident republicans in 2012 was also elected for the DUP.

Kyle Black’s father David died following a motorway drive-by shooting.

Ms Long said: “People came to the polls this time aware that a vacuum politically will be filled by violence inevitably in Northern Ireland, it is an unfortunate reality of our circumstances.

“People very much want to see that kind of shared future that we want to build and that shared present that Lyra actually lived in her own life.

“It has inspired people to come out and vote maybe with a bit more hope and a little less fear.”

The last Democratic Unionist/Sinn Fein-led powersharing coalition imploded amid a row about a botched renewable energy scheme.

The rift between the erstwhile partners-in-government subsequently widened to take in disputes over the Irish language, same-sex marriage and the legacy of the Troubles.

Sinn Fein’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill told the BBC: “For us it is about a platform and a stronger mandate in which to enter into the talks next week and we will do so with a good heart and trying to find a way forward.

“Certainly the message I heard loud and clear on the doors was that the people want the assembly and the executive to work but they want it to work right and work for them.”

A total of 819 candidates are standing for 462 available seats across 11 council areas in Northern Ireland.

Antrim and Newtownabbey voters have re-elected a former DUP mayor following his recent conviction for drink driving.

Thomas Hogg served a five-month suspension from the council earlier this year.

He said: “I am overwhelmed to have been elected with 999 votes – my largest ever.”

In Londonderry in the far west, the nationalist SDLP’s Mary Durkan was elected. The barrister is the sister of Stormont Assembly member Mark H Durkan.

The council election is being conducted by single transferable vote, a proportional representation system.