First results declared in Northern Ireland local government elections

The first results in the local government elections in Northern Ireland have been revealed, with councillors taking seats in Mid Ulster and Lisburn and Castlereagh councils.

Sinn Fein’s Darren Totten won the first seat in the Mid Ulster District Council. He topped the poll in Magherfelt with 1,665 first preference votes.

Other candidates elected include the DUP’s Clement Cuthbertson and Independent Barry Monteith in the Mid Ulster Council.

The counting process is taking place across Northern Ireland.

Ballot boxes were opened in 11 count centres across the region at 8am at the start of a two-day count.

A total of 819 local council candidates are standing for 462 available seats across the 11 council areas.

Local elections
Local elections

Initial indications from some of the 1,463 polling stations across the country suggest a solid turnout, with the good weather appearing to have buoyed numbers casting their ballots.

It was the first time in more than 20 years that a council election was held on its own, and not in conjunction with another poll.

The official turnout figure in the last council election in 2014, which was held at the same time as the European election, was 51%.

The verification of unused ballot papers was conducted overnight ahead of the main counts.

Counting will continue through Friday and is scheduled to resume on Saturday, when the final picture will begin to emerge.

Northern Ireland’s political leaders cast their votes in their local areas on Thursday.

DUP leader Arlene Foster voted in the Co Fermanagh village of Brookeborough while Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill voted in Clonoe, Co Tyrone.

Council elections
Council elections

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann voted in Ballymena, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood voted in Londonderry and Alliance leader Naomi Long cast her vote in east Belfast.

Among noteworthy races for seats will be Sinn Fein’s former West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff’s efforts to return from the political wilderness.

He was forced to step aside after offending the families of those shot dead by republicans at the height of the Troubles in Kingsmill, Co Armagh.

Mr McElduff is running for a place on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council in the far west.

In Newtownabbey, near Belfast, the DUP’s first openly gay candidate is seeking election.

Alison Bennington is standing for a party which has repeatedly vetoed same-sex marriage and holds strong Christian values.

It is the first poll since journalist Lyra McKee, 29, was shot dead by dissident republicans during disturbances in Londonderry in April.

Her death prompted revulsion against the group blamed for the killing and a call by a Catholic priest for politicians to redouble efforts to restore devolved powersharing.

Michelle O'Neill
Michelle O'Neill

The Stormont Assembly and ministerial Executive have been suspended since early 2017.

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.

Fresh negotiations are due to begin next week following Ms McKee’s death.

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