The Democratic Unionist Party’s first openly gay election candidate has been elected.

Alison Bennington hugged supporters at a Belfast count centre for Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council north of the city.

She attracted 1,053 votes as part of her campaign for the pro-union and Christian party and praised her supporters’ “good, hard work and good teamwork”.

The DUP’s founder, the late Rev Ian Paisley once led a campaign to, in his words, Save Ulster from Sodomy and prevent the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

His fundamentalist party is staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage and has thwarted recent efforts to legalise it.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where it is banned, despite five attempts by the devolved administration to introduce it and calls on Westminster to bypass Stormont’s quarrelling politicians.

The centralist Alliance Party topped the local government poll in part of Belfast during early vote counting.

The party has appealed for support to both unionists and nationalists and is trenchantly critical of Brexit and the Stormont powersharing stalemate which was denounced following the murder of journalist Lyra McKee.

Alliance held the balance of power between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists in the outgoing Belfast City Council, the largest in Northern Ireland.

Local elections
Good weather is thought to have boosted turnout (Joe Giddens/PA)

Former Alliance leader David Ford said: “People want serious politicians getting on with serious issues rather than what we see of the two main parties squabbling and failing to form the Executive at Stormont.”

The Green Party also topped a poll in part of the capital, but the Ulster Unionists appeared to have slumped.

Sinn Fein and the DUP’s votes held up in early tallying.

Former Stormont justice minister Mr Ford added: “I think certainly we have been in touch with the zeitgeist because we have been out and about talking to people, listening to them, hearing about genuine concerns and working on real issues.

“There have been a lot of people on the doorsteps bad-mouthing both the DUP and Sinn Fein and I hope that this election will be a wake up call for them.”

Council elections
Arlene Foster voted in the local election in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh (Michael McHugh/PA)

It is the first poll since Miss McKee, 29, was shot dead by dissident republicans during disturbances in Londonderry in April.

Her death prompted revulsion against the group blamed for the killing and a call by a Catholic priest for politicians to redouble efforts to restore devolved powersharing.

The Stormont Assembly and ministerial Executive have been suspended since early 2017.

Michelle O'Neill
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill (Joe Boland/PA)

The last Democratic Unionist/Sinn Fein-led powersharing coalition imploded amid a row about a botched renewable energy scheme.

The rift between the erstwhile partners-in-government subsequently widened to take in disputes over the Irish language, same-sex marriage and the legacy of the Troubles.

Fresh negotiations are due to begin next week following Ms McKee’s death.

Sinn Fein’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill told the BBC she was glad to see progressive parties like Alliance doing well.

Aine Grogan from the Green Party topped the poll in part of South Belfast. She told the broadcaster: “A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this.

“We dared to dream. We are overwhelmed by it all.”

A total of 819 candidates are standing for 462 available seats across 11 council areas in Northern Ireland.

Antrim and Newtownabbey voters have re-elected a former DUP mayor following his recent conviction for drink driving.

Thomas Hogg served a five-month suspension from the council earlier this year.

He said: “I am overwhelmed to have been elected with 999 votes – my largest ever.”

In Londonderry in the far west, the nationalist SDLP’s Mary Durkan was elected. The barrister is the sister of Stormont Assembly member Mark H Durkan.

In Newtownabbey, near Belfast, the DUP’s first openly gay candidate Alison Bennington is standing for a party which has repeatedly vetoed same-sex marriage and holds strong Christian values.

Among noteworthy races for seats will be Sinn Fein’s former West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff’s efforts to return from the political wilderness.

He was forced to step aside after offending the families of those shot dead by republicans at the height of the Troubles in Kingsmill, Co Armagh.

Mr McElduff is running for a place on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council in the far west.

The council election is being conducted by single transferable vote, a proportional representation system.