N. Ireland Politics

NI council elections: Changing faces, changing times

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Media captionAlison Bennington was congratulated by DUP colleagues after her election

Northern Ireland's council elections have seen the acreage occupied by the smaller parties grow.

The polls have ushered in some new faces... and bid farewell to some familiar ones.

In a weekend full of shocks and surprises, there were notable gains for the Greens, Alliance and People Before Profit.

As the dust settles on the count, BBC News NI looks at some of the winners and losers.

First openly gay DUP councillor

In a move some saw as the DUP testing the water on legalising gay marriage, the party's first openly gay politician contested the vote in Antrim and Newtownabbey.

Alison Bennington's success was hailed by Belfast East MP Gavin Robinson as a "good news story",

However, the fact assembly member Jim Wells claimed former party leader, the late Ian Paisley, would be "aghast" at the decision to run a gay candidate points to the internal divisions that remain over same-sex relationships.

For her part, Ms Bennington, who runs a consultancy firm, chose to say nothing following her success - preferring to let the dust settle.

That could take some time considering what a seismic shift her elevation represents for the Presbyterian wing of the DUP.

Fool's errand?

Sitting alongside the DUP groundbreaker on Antrim and Newtownabbey District Council will be an independent whose candidacy was sparked by an April Fool's Facebook post.

A suggestion that Michael Stewart take on the big boys and girls at the ballot box garnered enough support to persuade the advertising agency owner to do just that.

The man behind the Love Ballyclare Facebook page, said: "I wasn't aware there would be this massive surge to independents, the Greens and Alliance. I didn't know I was part of anything.

"I am one of those people who voted for me, who've no interest in politics - they care about holes in their roads, no paper in their schools and that they can't get an appointment with their health centre."

Ask a busy person

Not all superheroes wear capes - just ask A&E doctor and new mum Vikki McAuley.

With a five-month-old tot to take care of, she could be forgiven for having other things on her mind than representing the good people of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.

But as Benjamin Franklin once said: "If you want something done, ask a busy person."

"The other thing that I'm doing at the minute - I'm on maternity leave, but I'm also studying, doing a part-time law degree at Jordanstown," she said.

"It's fair to say I like to keep busy - very busy.

"I was aiming for a career change to the law, but now I've ended up in politics. I've an exam on Thursday as well."

She added: "It's been a busy time in my family, we say we don't do anything by halves, we've always a lot going on.

"It's been a real family effort, all three children - they're aged nine, four and nearly six months - we've all been out at some stage canvassing."

Take a bow

While there was plenty of new blood elected to local authorities across Northern Ireland, there were some famous and infamous names bidding adieu.

DUP veteran Alan Graham made headlines around the world after intervening while pop star Rihanna shot a video on his farm in Bangor, Co Down.

Image caption Alan Graham was pictured in front of his barn, where a Bible verse was painted

As the singer filmed the promo for her 2011 hit We Found Love, it all got a bit too much for Mr Graham who shut down the shoot as things were heating up.

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Media captionAlan Graham: "I felt things were getting inappropriate"

"I thought it was inappropriate. I requested them to stop and they did," he explained at the time.

"I wish no ill will against Rihanna and her friends. Perhaps they could acquaint themselves with a greater God."

Young blood

First-time candidate Áine Groogan topped the poll in the Botanic DEA and has become the Greens' first councillor in that area.

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Media captionÁine Groogan: 'People are fed up with old-style politics'

She told BBC News NI her party had made gains because voters were "fed up with old-style politics".

Family affair

People Before Profit was raising a glass of Champagne or perhaps a well-priced cava, to some fine electoral successes - not least in Belfast where Michael Collins joins his brother Matthew in the chamber.

Image caption Matt and Michael Collins

Michael will represent Collin which takes in the Dunmurry, Ladybrook, Lagmore, Poleglass, Stewartstown and Twinbrook wards.

Matt, meanwhile, is an old hand at the game, having been elected to Black Mountain in 2016.

While the brothers Collins may be the youthful face of People Before Profit, Eamonn McCann is very much the veteran campaigner (despite the leather jacket).

Image caption Eamonn McCann

In 1968, he earned the reputation of a fiery speaker at the forefront of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.

And after standing unsuccessfully for more than five decades, he was eventually elected in March 2016, at the age of 73, to the Stormont Assembly as a People Before Profit politician.

By March 2017, he had lost his seat in a snap election, but with plenty of fire still in his belly the Derry City fan is back on the political terraces having secured a berth on Derry City and Strabane District Council.

BBC News NI is covering the latest election results and analysis on our website, mobile app and on Facebook and Twitter until the last seat is filled.

A dedicated live page will keep you up to date as the results are announced.

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