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Francie Molloy sparks row with victory speech jibe about Willie McCrea being 'on the run'

By Nevin Farrell

Sinn Fein's Francie Molloy romped home in Mid Ulster with a substantial majority - but courted controversy with an immediate jibe at the DUP's Rev William McCrea.

The returning MP caused anger at the Ballymena count centre in the early hours of yesterday when he said Rev McCrea - who lost his seat in nearby South Antrim - was politically "on the run".

In a jibe which touched on the Government giving so-called comfort letters to "on-the-run" republicans, Mr Molloy said he would send the veteran DUP man a letter "to explain what it is all about".

Rev McCrea's son, who was standing against Sinn Fein in Mid Ulster, hit back, saying Sinn Fein would be better spending its time at Westminster.

Mr Molloy retained his seat with 19,935 votes while the Ulster Unionists' Sandra Overend was runner-up with 6,318 votes.

From the platform, Mr Molloy livened up proceedings when he said: "This constituency has changed dramatically from when (Sinn Fein's) Martin McGuinness first defeated Willie McCrea (in 1997) and I understand that Willie is on the run again. Another constituency has said time to move on, so I will send him a letter to explain what it is all about."

That drew some cheers from the Sinn Fein man's supporters.

In a dig back a Sinn Fein's Westminster abstenionist policy, Ian McCrea said: "While my dad may have lost his seat at least he had the decency to take his seat".

And referring to Mr Molloy's letter jibe, he said: "Go and spend your time and take your seat at Westminster and represent the people."

Molloy responded: "We provide an excellent constituency service, and I am on the ground seven days a week representing people and while we are lobbying at Westminster and have access to all the MPs, the Lords, we do that on a regular basis and are probably as often at Westminster as some of those who would like to see us take our seats."

He also said he had been guarding against complacency and said people wanted jobs and investment in the constituency and that Sinn Fein "represent Catholics, Protestants and dissenters".

Meanwhile, Ms Overend said the Ulster Unionist Party had increased its vote in Mid Ulster and she said that was an endorsement of the work she had done as an MLA for the area.

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