As the election dust settles and meetings of the new eleven “Super Councils” get underway, the future face of local government in Northern Ireland is beginning to take shape.
The reduction of 26 Councils to eleven sees a smaller number of elected representatives set to take on greater responsibility — signalling major change for how Northern Ireland is governed at a local level.
But for Alliance these elections were about much more. Following a turbulent few years as tribal politics erupted over flags, parades and the past — on-one could predict how these events would influence voters at the ballot box.
And while the analysis will continue for some time, one thing is clear — the Alliance Party is far from finished, as many had previously predicted.
Alliance had high hopes for this election. Having had to stand by and watch our offices and elected representatives attacked for taking a decision in Belfast City Hall that showed true leadership for everyone — we believed the core Alliance message would resonate with voters. And it did.
In Europe the party secured its best ever result with an unprecedented number of people getting behind Anna Lo’s bid to become an MEP dedicated to progressing Northern Ireland’s interests in Europe.
At Council level we secured 32 seats and in many places were on course for more. For the first time in years Alliance has a seat in Northern Belfast and now holds two seats in the new Newry, Mourne and Down Council. In Belfast the party is a major player, as the third largest party and again holding the balance of power. These are important strengths.
But despite all the success there were inevitably some loses and it is sad to lose 13 sitting Councillors. Along with those choosing not to stand for re-election, we are grateful for their years of service and pay tribute to the hard work and dedicated they have undertaken for everyone in Northern Ireland.
Despite the radical change in governing at local level, the overall political landscape remains unchanged. As we head towards another potentially contentious parades season, there are still no firm solution on the table to deal with flags, parades and the past. The latest round of proposed party leaders’ talks has failed to get past the planning stage.
Yet in an Executive where the majority of progress has stalled, Alliance Ministers are continuing to make progress and are working towards major reform in both the Justice and Employment and Learning Departments.
We are one year into a three-year election cycle and quickly moving towards Westminster election in May 2015. While Unionists are pre-occupied battling among themselves to decide who will take on Naomi Long in East Belfast, we must continue on encouraging even more people to step forward and support Alliance. Our message is clear — only Alliance can deliver the shared future everyone in Northern Ireland deserves.