Sinn Féin becomes largest party in Northern Ireland local government after 2023 elections

Monday, May 22, 2023

The councils of Northern Ireland.
Image: TUBS.

Sinn Féin won the most seats in the local elections across Northern Ireland's 11 councils as counting ended Saturday.

The nationalist Sinn Féin won 144 of the 462 seats contested, up from 105 at the 2019 local elections and surpassing the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)'s 122, a number unchanged from 2019.

The Alliance Party won the third-most seats, increasing its total from 53 to 67.

The Ulster Unionist Party won 54 seats and the Social Democratic and Labour Party 39, with the other 36 split between independents and other parties.

807 candidates contested the elections.

Sinn Féin won the most seats in six local councils, with the DUP the largest party in the remaining five.

Councils in Northern Ireland establish tax rates, plan development and provide services including rubbish disposal and maintaining public parks.

Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, only jointly could the largest nationalist and unionist parties form a government in semi-autonomous Northern Ireland, so the government has been suspended as the DUP have refused to participate since DUP First Minister Paul Givan resigned in February 2022.

Givan cited for his resignation his opposition to checks the Northern Ireland Protocol imposed following Brexit on goods moving from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland, while the border between European Union (EU) member Ireland and Northern Ireland remained without checks. The UK and the EU proposed the Windsor Framework to reduce in UK-Northern Ireland checks in February, but the DUP rejected this.

In the May 2022 elections to the Belfast-seated Northern Ireland Assembly, Sinn Féin surpassed the DUP to become the largest party in the Assembly for the first time.

Sinn Féin's vice president, Michelle O'Neill, said the "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", and characterised the results as a message to the Northern Ireland government to reconstitute.

O'Neill called for joint action from the UK and Ireland to help end the stalemate.

DUP head Sir Jeffrey Donaldson had said they were seeking a mandate to negotiate changes to the trade rules: "That's about ensuring that Northern Ireland's ability to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom is not only respected but protected in law, and that our place in the union is restored".