I was at a conference this week attended by people from all sides discussing the challenges their communities face, and happened to be sitting beside a young man from the Shankill area in Belfast.

When the discussion came round to what the main issue for Northern Ireland was, he was very clear.

Working class Protestants feel their voice isn’t heard, he said. Firmly pro-Union, the young man said his community in Belfast had many social problems, but they felt under-represented and many of them didn’t vote because they didn’t see any point.

I’m sure there are many Protestants of varying opinion who feel their voice isn’t heard either, and the election results won’t have encouraged them.

I thought of the many interviews with Unionist politicians in the aftermath of the council elections last week.

On Saturday, I heard the DUP’s Edwin Poots say that the election results were a “wake up and smell the coffee moment” for Unionism, and for a brief, fleeting moment I thought that party was going to accept the reality of momentous change.

I should have known better; it soon passed when I realised that what he meant was that Unionists should see the folly of their vote-splitting ways and, presumably, row in behind the DUP the way the Nationalist community has coalesced round Sinn Féin, to use the current buzzword.

Is there not a wider message for Unionism leadership in showing a strategic vision to give their people more confidence and a belief that they are valued in these drastically changing times?

Number crunchers and party spin are an integral part of election analysis, so the clear messaging that the electorate is sending to the politicians can be interpreted the way they want to interpret it.

But there are certain definite pointers, and one thing very clear is the direction of travel isn’t turning.

We now have a three-party system, and a society of three minorities as demographics change.

Two of them – Nationalism and “other” – are making firm progress. Unionism is dwindling and struggling with change.

The Sinn Féin surge continued last week and for the first time they gained most seats at council elections across Northern Ireland, and most first-preference votes.

They gained councillors in former Unionist strongholds, in Coleraine for the first time and in places like Ballymena and Lisburn.

The party got 144 seats, up from 105 last time, and it’s the first time any Nationalist party got the most seats on councils.

Four years ago, it was the DUP who got the most seats, with 122 councillors.

In addition to becoming the largest party at Assembly elections, Sinn Féin has now become the largest in local government as well.

They polled about 31 per cent of first preferences, compared to the DUP’s 23 per cent.

There is also the acceptance that Sinn Féin has been particularly successful in attracting younger voters, while the Unionist parties get the vote of the old demographic, so there is only one way this is going, no?

This election feels like a moment in time; that sound is the shift of tectonic plates.

Overall, the various Nationalist parties got 40.8 per cent of the vote, up 4.5 per cent, while all Unionist parties got 38.2 per cent, down 3.7 per cent.

The so-called middle ground also grew in this election, with the Alliance vote up, and they gained their first ever seat in Fermanagh.

There should be no doubt it was a bonus that they were particularly fortunate in the quality of their candidate, Eddie Roofe – a young, articulate man from a very respected local family.

And Fermanagh and Omagh District Council now has two Alliance candidates, which is progress, although the party still remains strongest in the east and has a lot of further work to do in the west. They had a disappointing day in Derry.

The greatest challenge following the election is for Unionism. For starters, the turnout was low and the conventional wisdom is that this is affecting disillusioned Unionists more than other parties.

It’s a worry that almost half of the electorate didn’t feel sufficiently motivated to vote, although the turnout was a bit better here in Fermanagh.

It was another poor election for the Ulster Unionists across the Province. I’m old enough to remember the party absolutely dominant in all areas of political life in Northern Ireland, but last week their vote went down again to about 10 per cent.

The heady days gone by of Ulster Unionism ruling the roost at Belfast City Hall are over – they have just two seats out of 60 on that council.

Many people feel that there is a large body of social liberal people in the Unionist community, so it remains a question for the progressive leadership of Doug Beattie as to why they continue to fail to attract them.

The line they’re pushing that they still have representatives on every council is clutching at straws, really.

As regards the DUP, they remain the largest bloc within Unionism, and they point out that they still managed to retain all 122 council seats.

But this ignores the direction of travel for Unionism.

In the 1985 council elections in Northern Ireland, Unionists gained 53.8 per cent of the vote, but 20 years later in 2005 that had gone down to 47 per cent.

Almost another 20 years on, and last week it went down to 39 per cent.

Time, indeed, to wake up and smell the coffee.

Some of the solutions don’t appear to look at the bigger picture. As always it seems, the dream of Unionist unity is raised as the panacea, but it won’t happen and wouldn’t work anyway.

How many of those liberal Unionists already drifting away would be attracted back by the prospect of joining up with the TUV, for example?

Rather, unifying political Unionism would lead to further drift.

There’s also been a suggestion of Unionist re-alignment, that is, the traditional wing and progressive wing of Unionism go their separate ways. It sounds good in theory, but how would it work?

My young friend from the Shankill and I had some good conversations this week. He said my view of Loyalism in Belfast was inaccurate; in fact, many people weren’t a bit interested in flags and emblems, but in working hard for their family, getting investment in their area, getting better education for their young people, and getting funding for the community workers trying to help the vulnerable, decent people.

I asked him why people in his area would vote DUP, and he candidly said they fell for the fear factor.

In return, I suggested that some Protestants in the west were wondering about the lack of investment here and even, post-Brexit, were wondering about the value of the Union.

Especially when they look across the Border and see massive social change.

It seemed to me that there are many bread and butter issues which people in our disparate communities want their politicians, of whatever hue, to get back to working on.

Opponents of Unionism would be foolish to gloat over its decline; they remain a significant section of the population, and they need political representatives to give them better leadership with a sense of purpose.

Getting a whiff of that Americano yet, Edwin?