Even though an earlier error meant its candidates were as often as not announced as ‘Aspire to Better’, NI21 was first and last on many lips during the weekend election count for Lisburn and Castlereagh.
First, because from the get-go speculation was rife as to the impact, on its vote, of the party’s much-publicised pre-election problems.
Last, because in Lisburn North, the final Lisburn and Castlereagh electoral area to declare, Johnny McCarthy, alone of the party’s 12 local candidates and indeed of the 47 provincewide, claimed a council seat.
Party colleague Christina Dobson might have robbed him of his place in history the day before, but her close-run race with Aaron McIntyre ended with the Alliance candidate’s election, some 20 votes ahead of Ms Dobson and fractionally under 120 shy of the quota.
As it was, Saturday’s last call saw all eyes still open at the close of the two-day count turn on Mr McCarthy and, within days, the media came calling again as disability campaigners lamented the lack of a ramp at the count centre to allow the wheelchair-user to make his victory speech from the podium.
Accepting of apologetic explanations from Lisburn City Council and Deputy Returning Officer Adrian Donaldson that the announcement podium had not been intended for any candidate’s use, Mr McCarthy welcomed raised awareness of the disability access issue but stressed it would not be his lasting memory of the day. Thanking everyone who helped and supported him, Mr McCarthy said his fellow NI21 candidates had been “great” and he predicted future growth for the party.
Meanwhile, claiming a number of “near misses”, party leader, Basil McCrea, hailed Mr McCarthy’s election against the “difficult backdrop of the days and hours leading up to Polling Day” as a boost for NI21.
“Every single vote in its own way was a victory,” he said. “One of the greatest triumphs however was not in relation to the actual number of votes cast for NI21.
“It was the fact that 47 people who had previously never been associated with electoral politics had become involved in the democratic process.
“It is my firm hope that this, our first electoral campaign, will form the foundation for better engagement with the electorate across the political spectrum in the future.”