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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
NI council election is completed
Ballot box
Ballot papers are being counted in the council poll
The DUP have emerged as the biggest party in Northern Ireland's local government election.

Sinn Fein came second, the Ulster Unionsts were third and the SDLP were in fourth place in terms of seats.

A total of 918 candidates were contesting the seats across Northern Ireland's 26 council areas.

The results have followed the pattern of the general election where the DUP and Sinn Fein were also the largest parties.

On Belfast City Council the DUP became the biggest party beating Sinn Fein into second place with its 15 seats.

In overall terms the Ulster Unionist Party's share of the vote dropped most sharply by just over 5%.

Votes being counted

The SDLP's share was reduced by several percentage points while the Alliance Party held its share, gaining several new seats.

It also still holds the balance of power on Belfast City Council.

The DUP won control of two councils for the first time. They gained 12 seats out of 23 in Ards Borough Council and also have 13 councillors of 23 in Castlereagh.

Among the candidates elected to Belfast City Council early on Tuesday were Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey and the DUP's Diane Dodds.

They topped the poll in Laganbank and Shankill.

Meanwhile, an Ulster Unionist candidate who withdrew from the election was elected in Lisburn anyway.

The withdrawal of David Archer Jr followed an alleged incident inside the city's council offices.

His name remained on the ballot papers because they had already been printed.

It is likely there will have to be a by-election for his seat unless the other parties agree that the UUP can co-opt another party member onto the council.

Turnout

Veteran socialist Eamonn McCann has failed to get elected to Derry City Council. He was standing for the Socialist Environmental Alliance.

In the same council area the Sinn Fein mayor has lost his seat. Councillor Gerry O'hEara, had served for sixteen years in council.

He blamed vote management for his defeat.

In Fermanagh the gender balance of the council was among the notable changes.

Six women were elected compared to the previous tally of one.

The overall turnout was 63%.

This was the last council election in Northern Ireland before the re-organisation of local government.

It is expected to reduce the number of councils from the present 26 to about half that number.




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