By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
The DUP’s vote in the local government elections was a recognition of the stance it had taken over the Northern Ireland Protocol, party MPA Gavin Robinson has said.
The DUP emerged with 122 seats in the elections, the same number as 2019.
But the largest unionist party finished some way behind Sinn Féin which increased its representation in councils by 39 to 144 seats.
There are 11 local councils in Northern Ireland and 462 councillors were elected following a marathon count at the weekend.
The poll took place against the backdrop of the DUP’s decision to collapse the Stormont powersharing institutions in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Mr Robinson said it had been a positive result for his party.
“More importantly, there is a recognition of the stance we have taken to resolve the impenetrable issues that have been affecting Northern Ireland’s politics over the last number of years associated with the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Windsor Framework,” he told the BBC.
He added: “Despite the barrage that we have faced over the last number of months, I think there is tacit recognition amongst the unionist electorate that there is a job that needs doing, it needs to be resolved and when we can get firm foundations for the restoration of devolution, we should do so.
“Until that time comes, we have to keep on the path we are on.”
But Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said he believed a significant number of people who voted for the DUP want to see the restoration of the Stormont Assembly.
“There has been a very clear view now twice in the course of a year from the electorate that they want the executive back in place, they want to see parties working together, which we want to do,” Mr Murphy said.
He said: “We want to try and address all of the issues in terms of the financial deficit, the impact of Tory austerity on public services, on pay for our public sector workers. We want to do all of these things.
“It is not about trying to get unionism off the hook. They need to come back into the executive, to work with all of the other parties to try and address the very real issues that people are facing.”
He added: “I think there are a significant number of people who voted for the DUP who want to see them do a deal to get back into powersharing.
“That is what we want to see as well.”
The cross-community Alliance Party increased its vote in the council elections and emerged with 67 seats.
MLA Paula Bradshaw said: “We had a very successful election, we went up to 67 seats, we have broken through in some areas that we have found very frustrating for many years.
“We are now firmly the third largest party here in Northern Ireland.
“This was an important election for us to solidify our third place.”
But it was a disappointing election for both the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP with both parties suffering significant losses.
UUP deputy leader Robbie Butler said there had been clear signs of apathy among some unionist voters in the council elections.
He told the BBC: “We will look at the factors that led to a reduced vote for ourselves and a reduced vote for unionism across all of Northern Ireland.
“A big part of that has been recognising an apathy in some areas.”
He added: “It is very important that unionism is positive, is courageous, is open to all and that we are building a union of people.
“We will continue to do that.”
SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole has said the overwhelming lesson from the election results was that people wanted the Stormont institutions to return.
“This constant DUP veto and holding everyone else to ransom, it is beyond a joke at this stage,” he said.
He added: “The Windsor Framework represents a huge step forward in terms of how the (Northern Ireland) Protocol works, it guarantees significant economic opportunity that we are already seeing interest from in North America.
“If the DUP want this place to work, if they want the status quo to be in any way attractive to people who aren’t in their core base, they are going to have to allow basic government to function.
“I think that was the overwhelming lesson from the election results.”