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  • Writer's pictureGreg O'Loughlin

Stunning council election sees Sinn Féin become largest party

By Caolán McGinley

The 2023 council elections saw Sinn Féin become the largest party in local government in the north for the first time in history.

A record number of 144 councillors were elected at last Thursday’s poll, with the party now overtaking the DUP with the biggest number of seats on local councils.

The party campaigned on a positive message of wanting to make politics work for all and for the restoration of the power-sharing Assembly and Executive at Stormont.

Speaking as the results were announced at various count centres, First Minister Designate Michelle O’Neill said that people had sent ‘a clear signal’.

“Sinn Féin went into this campaign with a positive message of wanting to make politics work for all.

“We asked people to vote for Sinn Féin candidates who will work hard in councils every day to deliver on the issues that matter to them.

“This election was an opportunity to send a clear signal.

“To support the positive leadership and a party that wants to get the Assembly up and running, deliver first-class council services, support people with the cost of living crisis, and invest in the health service. The voters have now spoken,” she said.

The election has seen historic breakthroughs in areas that have never before had a Sinn Féin elected representative.

Areas such as Ballymena, Coleraine and Lisburn now have Sinn Féin councillors elected to local government for the first time.

The party achieved stunning results in other areas, taking six out of seven seats in West Belfast’s Blackmountain, five seats in Collin and Slieve Gullion, and in Armagh, Carntogher, Lurgan, Mid Tyrone, West Tyrone, Newry, Oldpark, we took 4 seats.

In Derry and Strabane, Sinn Féin gained seats in every District Electoral Area (DEA) with all 18 party candidates elected and returned as the largest party on the city and district council.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald described the outcome of the election as 'momentous' and said while holding a majority of seats on many local councils, the party is absolutely committed to working together to deliver for ratepayers.

“We have a huge mandate in local government and in the Assembly and with that comes a huge responsibility.

“We will respect and value that mandate given to us by the people and we remain committed to continue to work with others to deliver for all,” she said.

This is the second time in 12 months that voters have gone to the polls, and again turned out in larger numbers to increase Sinn Féin’s overall percentage vote to over 30%.

Sinn Féin’s victories in this election are a clear indication of widespread support for ending the DUP’s blockade on the Assembly and Executive.

Speaking at a post-election press conference on Belfast’s waterfront, Michelle O’Neill called on the British and Irish governments to step up efforts to restore the political institutions.

She said: “The onus is now firmly on the two governments to come together and meet to put in place a plan to restore power-sharing.

“They should call a meeting of the British Irish Inter-Governmental Conference as soon as possible to begin work immediately on getting the institutions back up and running. That meeting should be at the level of An Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister.

“All political parties also need to engage to get the Assembly and Executive functioning with ministers in departments working together to push back against cruel Tory cuts to our health service, cuts to education for our children and young people, and to stand up for fair pay for workers.

“Sinn Féin stands ready to get on with the job and work with others around the Executive table to get things moving, without any more delay,” she concluded.

This article first appeared in An Phoblacht on May 26th, 2023. You can read the original story here.

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