By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Polls have now closed in the Northern Ireland local elections.
Counting across 11 sites will begin on Friday and is expected to continue into Saturday.
Ballots cast on Thursday will elect 462 councillors across the 11 councils in Northern Ireland.
It is the first electoral test for the parties since last year’s Assembly elections and takes place against the backdrop of the Stormont stalemate, with the powersharing institutions not operating as part of a DUP protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The poll was pushed back by two weeks due to the coronation of the King on May 6.
It was a low-key election campaign, largely overshadowed by the visit to Northern Ireland of US president Joe Biden, commemorations of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and King Charles's coronation.
The 11 local councils are responsible for a number of services, including waste collection, street cleaning, local planning, leisure services and parks.
However, the elections may come to be seen as a measure of public feeling on larger political issues such as the ongoing suspension of powersharing and a budget crisis facing Stormont departments.
Sinn Féin, which currently has 105 councillors, will be hoping to emulate last May’s Assembly election result and emerge as the largest party.
The republican party is fielding 162 candidates and has predicted it could make gains in areas where it has not previously had an elected representative.
The DUP is currently the largest party in local government with 122 councillors.
The unionist party is running 152 candidates this time.
Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson has pledged that his party will stand firm over any return to Stormont until political and trading concerns around the Windsor Framework are addressed.
The cross-community Alliance Party made the largest gains in last year’s Assembly elections and will be hoping to increase the 53 councillors it currently has.
Alliance is running 110 candidates across the 11 council areas.
The Ulster Unionist Party is running 101 candidates. It suffered losses in both the last Assembly and local government elections. It currently has 75 councillors.
The nationalist SDLP has similarly seen its vote squeezed in recent elections. It has 59 councillors and is running 86 candidates.
The TUV has 46 candidates, the Green Party has 37, Aontú has 19 and People Before Profit has 16.
Belfast City Council is the largest local government area in Northern Ireland with 60 councillors to be elected.
No party has overall control but Sinn Féin is currently the largest party in Belfast City Hall.